The American Middle Child is now an endangered species
July 11, 2018 6:46 AM   Subscribe

The Middle Child is Going Extinct By Adam Sternbergh "... here’s a suggestion as to how you can spend the next National Middle Child Day [August 12]: contemplating the extinction of the middle child. Because, like the mountain gorilla and the hawksbill turtle, the American Middle Child is now an endangered species. As the ideal number of children per family has shrunk to two — that’s not me speaking, it’s demographics — the middle child, in a very real sense, is disappearing."
posted by pjsky (44 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Look around. The middle child still exists. It's just that now in the year 2018 it's got a pretty good chance of being a dog.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:56 AM on July 11 [27 favorites]


Just like a middle child to make everything about them.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:00 AM on July 11 [49 favorites]


I can't wait to let my brother Joe know. This will really upset him. He's kind of odd.
posted by bondcliff at 7:11 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


There is a lot of confirmation bias in that article. For example

"There’s Candace, the middle of seven, who told me, “Nobody took baby pictures of me — which I didn’t realize until I was in my 40s and asked for them. That was a strange, awful discovery.”"

I mean, presumably she wasn't the middle child when she was a baby, at least for a while?
posted by Tarumba at 7:11 AM on July 11 [23 favorites]


Will millennials stop at nothing??
posted by tobascodagama at 7:19 AM on July 11 [21 favorites]


It's just that now in the year 2018 it's got a pretty good chance of being a dog.

I can confirm. I am a middle child, and my brothers agree that I am a dog.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:22 AM on July 11 [14 favorites]


I'm an only child and had the opposite experience as Candace. I was home a few years ago and was all "Mom, you never took any photos of me as a baby!" and she was all "WTF, son, here's a box of them you ungrateful turd, also here are your waffles just how you like them YOU ARE SO SPECIAL."
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:22 AM on July 11 [20 favorites]


This is a really weird take on the birthrate coming more into replacement equilibrium.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:33 AM on July 11 [16 favorites]


I can't wait to let my brother Joe know. This will really upset him. He's kind of odd.

Technically, isn't he even?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 7:36 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


"There’s Candace, the middle of seven, who told me, “Nobody took baby pictures of me — which I didn’t realize until I was in my 40s and asked for them. That was a strange, awful discovery.”"

I'm the oldest of three and my mother still has the baby books they kept for each of us.

Child 1: every section lovingly filled out in detail, lock of baby's hair kept in tiny envelope.
Child 2: starts off detailed, peters out by the crawling/babbling phase.
Child 3: has baby's name on first page. Otherwise blank.
posted by Catseye at 7:42 AM on July 11 [40 favorites]


This is a really weird take on the birthrate coming more into replacement equilibrium.

Yeah, this is sort of the human-interest equivalent of those articles you find in motoring magazines lamenting the decline of the carbureted big-block V8 or whatever, and it's like... yes, it's literally true that is a thing that's going away. But there are good reasons for it, and concentrating only on the thing that's disappearing and not the reasons why, and particularly to ignore why that might be a good thing overall, is pretty myopic.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:59 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


Child 3: has baby's name on first page. Otherwise blank.

My mother has been caught multiple times passing off pictures of the older kids as my younger sister. When caught she claims were mistaken not here, even though the picture clearly shows a house a we moved out of like 5 years before my youngest sister was born.

I think she feels bad on how little she's documented my sister's childhood, but after four kids it was a bit hard to remember to do this. And it doesn't help the pictures we did have of my sister were pretty much destroyed in a fire, while the older kids pictures were a bit more spread out among family and friends.
posted by jmauro at 8:03 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


I feel relieved. I'm both the middle child and born at 25 weeks, so according to this article I'm even more lucky to be alive than I realized. :)
posted by Alensin at 8:06 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Divorce/remarriage makes middle children, though. I was twenty years old, and my sister fourteen, when my mother remarried. We inherited a four year old step-sister, which effectively made my little sister a middle child, which I (as oldest child) enjoyed immensely.
posted by thivaia at 8:28 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Is this something I would need to have siblings to understand?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 8:29 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Child 3: has baby's name on first page. Otherwise blank.

I have an only child and no plans for more. This describes his baby book as well. In my defense, two working parent household, went back to work at 8 weeks. I could either lovingly scrapbook his infancy, or actually experience his infancy, but not both.

Anyway, I tend to think birth-order-is-like-this theories are bunk, because according to them I'm basically a monster (aka an only child).
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:31 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Tarumba: There is a lot of confirmation bias in that article.

There's that, and it took me a while to find out why we should be concerned. It takes a long time to get to this, but it appears that the point of the article is this:
In fact, the more you learn about the skills of classic middle children — peacemakers, risk takers, levelheaded loyalists with expansive friend groups — the more middle children seem essential to our survival. [psychologist Catherine Salmon, a leading expert on middle children] cites “independence and resilience” as “characteristics I’d hate to see disappear in a future population of only small families — especially at a time when our world so needs these particular skills.”
But the article author, Adam Sternbergh, shoots a significant hole in the idea that there birth order is likely to indicate anything about a person with this paragraph, following the introduction of Salmon:
It’s possible, of course, that the entire theory of birth-order attribution is overblown. Many psychologists discount it altogether, citing the so-called Barnum Effect. Coined by psychologist Paul Meehl in 1956, the Barnum Effect describes our tendency to recognize and agree with personality traits that seem to be tailored specifically for us, even when they’re general enough to apply to a large group. (If you’re told that, say, redheads are “nice, but occasionally stubborn” you’ll agree if you’re a redhead, even though that could really describe anyone.) The Barnum Effect helps explain, for example, the perceived accuracy of fortune tellers, who are expert at manipulating this tendency. There’s undoubtedly an element of self-fulfilling prophecy to any set of characteristics ascribed to birth order, much as there is to, say, those linked to astrological signs. And there have been large studies of birth order that seem to discredit the notion that common attributes exist at all.
It's a long article, full of interesting anecdotes about famous people, but stepping back, those are still anecdotes and studies based on really small sample sizes (by focusing on supreme court justices who served from 1900 to 2010 only gets you 55 samples).


Catseye: Child 3: has baby's name on first page. Otherwise blank.

I don't recall much of Parenthood (the movie -- I'm living parenthood now, and it's hard to forget, though I am more forgetful, due to being a sleep-deprived parent ;)), but this quote (movie transcript) floated around my home since we first saw the movie:
l mean, l think we were very tense when [the first kid] was little. lf he got a scratch, we were hysterical. By the third kid, you know, you let them juggle knives.
We just have two, and we've slacked off on the level of parental concerns.

#1: you want to go outside? OK, let's get you all dressed up, here's a hat, some screen, shoes and socks, a bag of snacks and a bottle of water just in case.
#2: you want to go outside? OK, do you want to put on a shirt? No, okay then, at least put on pants. Hey, it's probably hot outside. You don't want to put on shoes? Sure, why not, you'll figure it out. Have fun!

I still follow them around our neighborhood and don't let them get out of my sight because they're both still young, but I'm pretty comfortable with minor injuries being fine ways to learn about your body and the world around you.

And to add to the author's concern for this "disappearing creature," we're not having a 3rd. Two is plenty, and we just passed out of the diaper phase of life, though we're still in "getting up in the middle of the night to climb into the big bed" ... which I've heard doen't necessarily end any time soon :/
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on July 11 [6 favorites]


I was an only child. I prefer to classify any evidence that I had a younger sister as hearsay.
posted by delfin at 9:11 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


In my life I've been an only child, a foster child and a youngest child, but never a middle child. My middle kid is great though.
posted by drezdn at 9:12 AM on July 11


He’s also the acting president of the International Middle Child’s Union (which he founded) and the world’s leading, and possibly only, proponent of switching Middle Child’s Day to July 2. (“It’s the middle of the calendar!”)

July 2 would be a perfect Middle Child Day since it would be forever eclipsed by the holiday that comes right after it.
posted by ejs at 9:24 AM on July 11 [18 favorites]


I hadn't realized that the Middle Child is a separate species, reproductively incompatible with the rest of us. :/
posted by heatherlogan at 9:38 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


There’s got to be something right before the holiday, though, as well as right after. Middle Child Day should be December 28.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:39 AM on July 11 [11 favorites]


I'm kind-of middle; 3rd of 4, however my oldest brother is 7 years older that me and the next oldest only 2, and I'm 2 years older than the youngest. So practically the young three of us were one cohort all born within a 4-year window (where I'm the middle) and the oldest child was developmentally off-on-his-own.

I do exhibit many of the classic middle-child markers, but I believe it to be a combination of nature and nurture.

I'm sure that there is a middle-child effect, but I also believe that years-between-siblings is a pretty significant factor; e.g. I'm thinking the effect is diminished when there are lots of years between siblings, and little to no effect when families are blended when the youngest has passed the formative years of early childhood.
posted by achrise at 9:45 AM on July 11


I, as a middle child, clicked on the article, but became fatigued at the wavering points...am I Jan Brady or Donald Trump?
posted by Dillionaire at 9:45 AM on July 11


I thought most of the birth order stuff was only true when you're actually with your siblings. In the rest of the world, those traits don't persist.

Also, as long as there's divorce, we'll continue to have middle children. I was the youngest at one house and middle at the other. (And actually prefer middle. I like blending in better than lots of attention.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:57 AM on July 11


Oh great; now millennials are killing actual children, along with gyms, housing, and the napkin industry.

Well, you know. Not actual actual children, but an industry of children.

Wait, no; that's not right either. A... trope of children?

Whatever. I'm sure the snake people are behind this problem. Which is certainly a problem, or there wouldn't be news articles about it.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:02 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


We stopped at 1 kid. I always wanted lots of kids. Turns out one is lots. So I'm happy.

As a middle child, I'm OK with not seeing many more middle children. It was never very fair. My wife (who was eldest of two) is, for whatever reason, strongly persistent in keeping things "fair" between kids. If we only have one, we can't possibly be unfair in how we treat him relative to his (nonexistent) siblings.

We do have fun though, teasing him about his (imaginary) brother Walter, who is ALWAYS treated unfairly. As in, "start behaving or we'll make you sleep in the garage, like Walter." He thinks it's hilarious.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:18 AM on July 11 [15 favorites]


This is interesting to me as a stereotypical middle child. Also, I've always been a little fascinated by the dynamic in two-kid families, so I'm trying to imagine what that shift might mean. I have all sorts of anecdotal theories about how they compete and cooperate and pair off with one of the parents to make a team. Like Calvin and Felix Calvin Fischoeder from Bob's burgers.
posted by es_de_bah at 10:27 AM on July 11


Look around. The middle child still exists. It's just that now in the year 2018 it's got a pretty good chance of being a dog.

Incorrect. The dog is the first child. The firstborn human child is effectively the middle child, but then the parents mix up the pack order. Good doggos roll with it. Not all are able to though.
posted by vignettist at 10:38 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


One of my cats definitely felt that she was the baby and this interloper was usurping her rightful place.
posted by mogget at 10:52 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


We currently have a four-year-old cat, a three-year-old cat, and a two-month-old human, so our second cat is the middle child.

(The cats are basically cool with the baby except when she cries. Then they run away. I don't blame them, I'd run away if she weren't my problem.)
posted by madcaptenor at 10:54 AM on July 11 [5 favorites]


Based on this article, and assuming that 4+ children are just 4 children, we find that the percentage of "middle children" is like this:
1976: 28%
1994: 14%
2014: 15%
So, if your mother was born around 1936, the number of "middle children" in new families has gone down by half. However, if your mother was born around 1954, the number of"middle children" in new families has remained steady.
posted by demiurge at 11:20 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Millennials are killing middle children? Nah, killing middle children is as old as Cain and Abel.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:05 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


My (half) sister is both a youngest and a middle (and I'm an only and a youngest. We weren't raised together.) but even before I was born she had Middle Child Syndrome. She's also recovering from surgery, like me. I think I'm going to go order her some flowers now. And maybe some chocolate. We aren't really close, but reading this makes me want to give her all the things.
posted by Ruki at 12:59 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Incorrect. The dog is the first child. The firstborn human child is effectively the middle child, but then the parents mix up the pack order

You are right about that, I just simplified a bit for effect. Not cats though, cats are still not yet children. I wonder when the 'cat parks', 'cat daycare' and special 'cat treats' sold at primarily human eating places will come along. Possibly when the first breed of cat that'll regularly accept a leash is invented.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:09 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Man, it's a freaking relief to have the extinction of an entirely meaningless identity marker to obsess over for a while! I've been stuck on "they won't let disabled people colonize Mars" for a few weeks and it totally sucks.

I am going to hassle my brother and sister about appropriately coddling me on Middle Child Day for the next month, it's gonna be awesome.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:46 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I thought the progression was "pressure to have a kid" -- have kid --- "when are you going to give that kid a sibling" ---- if first 2 are assigned same gender proceed to "when are you going to try for a boy/girl?" I am (honestly) interested at another facet being added to the flowchart!
posted by nakedmolerats at 4:02 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


My mom's will has my sister as the executor of the estate, "because she's the middle child and I worry about her feeling ignored." I didn't realize until years after she said that that it's kind of a weird way to make your kid feel special. We'll see if it works!
posted by phoenixy at 7:33 PM on July 11


I'm the middle of the three girls and we are tightly packed together (4 years separating us) and we fell perfectly into every single stereotype of eldest, middle and baby. There are barely any baby pics of me :(. The ones that do exist are group shots or at a distance.
posted by nikitabot at 7:38 PM on July 11


We do have fun though, teasing him about his (imaginary) brother Walter, who is ALWAYS treated unfairly. As in, "start behaving or we'll make you sleep in the garage, like Walter." He thinks it's hilarious.

Our imaginary child, Billy, did something so bad that we refuse to talk about it. As a consequence, he lives under the house and once a month I throw him a bag of cat food. The kids have kind of outgrown Billy, but for a while our youngest would but her face near the floor at bedtime and yell "GOODNIGHT BILLY!"

She also yelled greetings to (Tolkien-style) dwarves whenever we walked near sewer grates. That, too, was my fault.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:32 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


We do have fun though, teasing him about his (imaginary) brother Walter, who is ALWAYS treated unfairly. As in, "start behaving or we'll make you sleep in the garage, like Walter." He thinks it's hilarious.

This is really funny and totally something I would do, but since my only child is desperate to have a sibling he’d probably get really excited and think we actually had another child and then I’d have to break his heart :(
posted by lollymccatburglar at 9:09 AM on July 12


I'm the one (eldest, youngest, middle) child of a middle child (my dad) with a birthday sandwiched between two holidays as madcaptenor suggests; is that enough for honorary middle child status?
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:50 PM on July 12


It's the fault of all those couples with 4 or 6 or 8 kids thinking "that should be enough".
posted by farlukar at 1:35 PM on July 16


I always took middle child to mean anything between first and last. I mean, is there really much psychological difference between 2&3 of four?
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:53 PM on July 16


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