Endangered Species — The Middle Child

If my occasionally reliable memory is correct, there was a “Simpsons” episode in which a family crisis caused Lisa’s birthday to be forgotten.  She ended up celebrating by herself: “Happy birthday, overlooked middle child….”

I was reminded of that by an article, “The Extinction of the Middle Child: They’re becoming an American rarity, just when America could use them the most” by Adam Sternbergh.  Not surprisingly, Sternbergh is a middle child himself.

Did you know August 12 is National Middle Child Day?  No?  That’s another sign of how our families are changing.  Sternbergh quotes a 1976 study by the Pew Research Center as saying, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.”  In that era, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children, 25 percent had three, 24 percent had two, and 11 percent had one.  Today, nearly two-thirds of women with children have only two or one.  The middle child is disappearing.

To some, that might seem a good thing.  It’s not easy being in the middle.  There is even a condition called Middle Child Syndrome with its own Wikipedia entry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_child_syndrome).

But many disagree.  For example, psychologist Catherine Salmon wrote The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities.  She thinks  “middleness” is a strength, and took on this subject because there was so little research about middle children.  Firstborns do seem to get more attention — 36 percent of U.S. presidents have been firstborns. But Salmon points out that 52 percent of presidents have been middleborns, and that the prevalence of firstborn presidents has been overstated, since many of them had older sisters who weren’t counted.  Famous middle children include Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffett and Jennifer Lopez.

The subject of birth order will always be one of contention and the overall impact of smaller families will be much debated.  If you would like to get into the middle of this discussion, Sternbergh’s article is at  https://www.thecut.com/2018/07/the-middle-child-is-going-extinct.html.  The picture came from that website.


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