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Middle Child Syndrome: Truth or Fiction?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons – whitni.elise

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of an online writing acquaintance of mine, Cathy Miller.

Cathy Miller is a freelance business writer with more than 30 years of professional writing experience.

Cathy has a business writing blog at Simply Stated business as well as a blog regarding health.

If you’d like to submit a guest post yourself, here are the guidelines.


I wear the middle child of seven distinction as an honor badge. It creeps into my writing and even an email address.

I am fascinated by the theories that birth order determines your personality. Oh really? Let’s examine this further.

Pecking Order

Scientists bantered about the notion that your birth order influences your personality for over a century. Alfred Adler, an Austrian psychiatrist and peer of Sigmund Freud, took the theory quite seriously.

Adler proposed that where you fall in the pecking order has a lasting effect on personality. Losing only child status burns as well. Adler called that event “dethronement.” In the case of my sister, the oldest of the siblings, being only five feet tall added a whole other dimension to her relationship with my nearly six-foot tall oldest brother.

Science being science, the debate over birth order’s effect raged on through countless studies. The following are a few of the characteristics assigned to birth order.

  • First born – a leader, high achiever, conservative
  • Only child – most likely to go to college, selfish, a perfectionist
  • Middle child – a peacemaker, competitive, flexible
  • Youngest child – rebellious, charming, persistent

I’ll accept those middle child attributes.

Recent studies link IQ and birth orders. It seems the more brothers and sisters between you and the oldest, the lower your IQ. I don’t think I’ll tell my younger sister that. I guess her Master’s degree was a fluke.

Birth Control

To quote a Scientific American article on the subject = size matters.

As the author explains, scientists dismissed early birth order studies that did not consider family size. After all, my middle child of seven rank means dealing with more siblings than a middle child of three does.

Have you ever wondered why children from the same family, raised with the same values, turn out so different? One reason may be family size. As the article points out – life happens. Changes in financial status or parenting practices have an impact. Either that or we just wear out mom and dad.

There are also studies that suggest we form relationships with other people of the same birth order. That’s a little too Stepford Wives for me.

Middle Child Syndrome

If I were to play this game, what personality traits would I admit to?

  • An aversion to “following the crowd”
  • A hatred of labels meant to define you (yet I accept middle child -?)
  • Comfortable onstage, but lone wolf tendencies
  • Pollyanna persona

My mother was also a middle child. However, she was that middle child of three.

In her, I see a much different experience, a sensitivity that she was not the oldest (and male) or the much younger, doted on little sister.

Two middle children – two very different personalities. Of course, that could be the view of a typical child who never thinks he or she takes after a parent.

Truth or Fiction?

So, is there something to this theory? Is the fact that the topic fascinates me so much a confirmation of my middle child status?

A part of me resists the idea that the luck of the draw defines who I am. Yet, I see so much of myself in certain descriptions of the middle child. Kind of like astrology signs. We dismiss them as amusing generalities, but we read our horoscope every day.

What do you think? How much did your birth order shape your personality? Do you see history repeating itself in your children?

When in doubt, we could always blame our parents.


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  1. Thanks, Tor, for the guest real estate. :-)

  2. Interesting post! This kind of stuff fascinates me. I’m the oldest of two and have two girls myself, and my oldest actually exhibits more of my husband’s qualities (he’s the youngest of 5). I think my youngest actually has more of my personality, but she’s only 3 so that could change as she gets older.

  3. Fascinating, Cathy. I’m one of two so I wouldn’t know, but I’m always interested in this kind of analysis.

  4. Interesting post! I’ve been fascinated by this kind of thing as well. I fit the definition of first born more than an only, but as my mom says, I’m one of two “onlys” — my only brother is 11 years older than me. My son and my step-daugher have a similar situation and she is definitely has only-tendencies whereas he’s more of a first born.

  5. Ah, this dovetails greatly with an impending post I have in my queue (and several that I have already shared)…
    The reason why science thought that younger kids IQ were lower the more kids was related to the fact that the kids were closely related in age. And, the parents interacted less with the younger kids, relying upon their older siblings to “play telephone”. New data indicates that if the age differential is large, then the parents interact with the younger kids more- akin to the oldest child’s doting- and the youngest child actually wins out with these interactions…
    I examined this phenomenon when, after a 10 year break, I was blessed with a new addition to my family… at an age when I thought I was getting ready to retire in a few more years. 21 years later and I still can’t afford to do that, but am loving each and every one of these now thirty-somethings (and a twenty-one year old)….

    • W have a knack for doing that with out posts, Roy. :-) Thanks for adding that interesting insight on the IQ aspect, Roy. And I’m sure your 21-year-old feels blessed as well. :-)

  6. Interesting topic Cathy. :)

    My family’s a bit strange. I was the oldest, with two younger brothers. In that dynamic, the three of us fit most of the birth order stereotypes. I was the leader, the caregiver, and an over-achiever. I also had the highest IQ of the group. I don’t consider myself conservative in a general sense, although I’m definitely more conservative than some other family members. I suppose I can credit my Aquarian status with overriding that — bringing out the more open-minded and creative elements.

    My middle brother was most definitely a peacemaker, quieter than the other brother and I, but still competitive with sports. My youngest brother was the biggest attention-seeker I knew. We were all 2 years apart.

    Then things were uprooted. Families merged, and suddenly there were six of us. One stepbrother was about a month older than me, but he wasn’t around much, so for all intents and purposes it was as if I was still the oldest. The youngest brother was no longer the youngest, but it was like he tried even harder to get attention.

    Then my mom and (sort of) step dad had my little sister (10 years my junior). She didn’t fit any of the youngest child stereotypes. She isn’t an attention-seeker. If anything, she’s a lot like me — same exact IQ, quiet when younger, but still a high achiever and competitive, has creative interests (theater in her case), etc. And my step-siblings also didn’t fit any of those stereotypes, but there was always an odd dynamic to that side of the family.

    So while I’ve seen these roles play out, in my experience it either starts when you’re very young or you can avoid fitting into one of those molds.

    • Hi Jenn. Thanks for sharing your story. Blended families would, I think, bring a whole different dynamic. My big ol’ family was totally Ozzie and Harriet – Mom and Dad married for over 60 years until Dad passed.

      See why I find this so interesting? So many twists and turns. :-) Thanks again, Jenn.

  7. I am middle of four (I have a twin brother who was also the oldest boy), and I definitely have “middle child syndrome” through and through.very introvertive unless you put me in front of a crowd, laid back, go with the flow. I’ve seen several articles in the past covering this idea, and I know that at least as far as my little family is concerned, we fit to a tooth.

    • Oh, a twin – love that element, Sarah. :-) How would you characterize your twin’s personality? I am definitely a “go with the flow” type of person. I wouldn’t say I was always that way, but I like to think it was a good development. Thanks for sharing your family story, Sarah.

  8. Crystal Green says:

    I do thiink there is definitely some truth to the middle child syndrome. I was the only child growing up. However, since my baby girl has been born, I’ve seen some dramatic changes in my youngest son (who is the middle child in our family.) I hate seeing how he feels he has to fight for attention. My oldest needs more time with me due to his school work, and the baby is a baby. He gets one on one dates with me as often as I can create them, which is not often enough in my book.

    • That’s so great you recognize that Crystal. I remember my Mom & Dad telling me when they came to visit me when I was in my 20s that they couldn’t get over how much louder I was. LOL! I figured it was an attempt to be heard over my brothers and sisters that honed that skill (?). Thanks, Crystal, for your insight.

  9. Cathy, I’m an only child… so nothing fits me much, and I had boy and girl twins with my first pregnancy… hard figure it all out – but fun to think about

  10. Kathy Henderson-Sturtz says:

    As the oldest of 13 (1 full-blood brother less than a year younger, 3 sibs with mom’s 2nd husband, and another 8 sibs with dad’s 2nd wife) I’m feeling I definitely fit the norm of traits of oldest child. But I don’t think that the only thing, nor the most influential thing, that contributed to my “style”.

    • Okay, you win, Kathy-13! I would agree that the pecking order probably has an effect, but we humans are much more complex than that. :-) Thanks for bringing up a good point, Kathy.

  11. I’m the eldest of 3 children. My brother and sisters are twins. :) I’ve always felt like a mom to them and I had an active role in their education. Also, I had the honor to name them upon birth. I’m very protective of my siblings.

    Now that they’re 21, I get some of those cuddles back. ^_^ They take care of me and come to me for advice.

    If the child born before me lived, I would have been the middle child. Unfortunately he died before birth and somehow… I miss the presence of this angel brother I never got to meet.

    • So many twins in the group! My cousin, Luana, was the only girl (and the oldest) of six siblings. She had Mom written all over her from the time she was a child. She now has 4 of her own.

      I am sure your angel brother is always with you, even though you didn’t physically meet. Thanks for sharing you family story with us, Luana.

      • Being a ‘second mom’ was always one of my favorite things. :) Was it like that for your cousin, too?

        Wow, 4 kids! I hope I’ll be as blessed one day.

        Thank you, Cathy. That was absolutely sweet of you to say. :’)

        And I’m honored to be here.
        ~ Luana S.

  12. chamroeunmata says:

    PSG step up interest in Alves

    Agen Bola indo11.com reported, Barcelona full-back Daniel Alves could
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    PSG officials have been disappointed with
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    Media reports from France suggest that the
    Saints have made Barcelona’s Daniel Alves their number one target.as reported byIndo Eleven.

    The Brazilian defender has a contract until
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    Alves is no longer regarded as an
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    The 30-year-old defender, who joined
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    Source : http://www.indo11.com

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