The Current

Smaller families are pushing 'the middle child' into extinction, study suggests

Could the overlooked middle-born child really become obsolete? A recent study suggests families are no longer having more than two kids.

Research prompts many to suffer classic symptoms of middle child syndrome

Could the overlooked middle-born child really become obsolete? It could happen according to a recent study that suggests families are no longer having more than two kids. (pixabay/amyelizabethquinn)

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Originally published on September 12, 2018.

Bruce Hopman grew up with the classic symptoms of middle child syndrome — feelings of neglect and exclusion —except for a brief moment once a year.

It was during the annual family road trip to Florida. Hopman had the honour of sitting in the front seat with his parents while his two siblings were squished between his grandparents in the back seat.

"At that time I thought, 'Oh my God, I might be — maybe — my parent's favourite child. Why else would I be sitting in the front seat?" he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Years later, I realized 'Oh wait there was no seatbelt in the middle seat in the front.'"

"I was like the sacrificial lamb."

Check out the photo gallery below featuring some famous middle children.

He recalled other memories where he believes he may have been slighted as a result of his middle child status — such as having to learn how to tie his shoelaces on his own.

"My brother was my father's favourite child — no question — my sister was my mother's favourite child, her only girl," he said.

Hopman calls himself "the repeat" because he says his parents wanted a girl and had him. When his sister arrived, they stopped having kids.

Now, Hopman and other middle children like him are getting a little more attention — however, it's because they might be on the verge of becoming obsolete, at least in the West.

According a Pew Center study, 40 per cent of mothers over the age of 40 had four or more kids in the 1970s. Today nearly two-thirds of mothers have only one or two kids.

Is middle child syndrome even a thing?

According to University of Redlands psychology professor Catherine Salmon, middle children appear to be as psychologically well-adjusted as anyone else.

"The idea of calling it a syndrome — I mean, to me that kind of fits into the myth category," she told Tremonti.

"They're not more depressed or less capable of handling reality. People can always point out a specific example of a middle child who perhaps has a problem child.

"My favourite one is usually Charlie Sheen because he certainly had some adventurous times but there are just as many famous cases that are very successful … like Bill Gates," Salmon explained.

In her research, Salmon said she found middle children were rarely the subject of helicopter-parenting, which could explain why they were more independent than their siblings.

Hopman agreed the lack of attention factors into behaviour traits associated with middle children. As a result of his independence, he pointed to moving out of the house when he grew up. His brother and sister live within five minutes from the family home. 

​"We grow up to be ... diplomatic, good negotiators. Our independence leads us to be, you know, entrepreneurial like Bill Gates," he said.

But Rodica Damian, an assistant professor of social personality psychology at the University of Houston, isn't convinced middle children are inherently unique.

"I don't think there is any scientific evidence to suggest that children of different birth orders actually have different personalities," she said.

Did you know that August 12 is National Middle Child Day in the U.S.? Not many do. The irony that no one pays attention to this holiday is not lost on middle child Bruce Hopman. (John Vizcaino/Reuters)

In fact, she doesn't believe the term "middle child syndrome" should exist at all.

Her research involved 370,000 people with families from different socio-economic backgrounds that had three children and more than three children.

"No matter how you split the data there were no meaningful differences," she said.

Damian posited that middle children are on the decline, in part, because of a changing economy.

Parents are having smaller families to focus on supporting their children's education needs in order to prepare them for a demanding workforce.

"This is really a smart economic decision to have fewer children so you can invest more resources in all of them," she said, "so they all end up with a better shot in the labour market."

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

Written by Lisa Ayuso. Produced by The Current's Jessica Linzey.


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