Birth Order, From Oldest to Middle to Youngest to Only

What follows are selected observations from experts on the possible effects of birth order on the oldest, middle, youngest, and only child.

The Oldest Child

Undivided attention, a high level of assigned responsibility, strong encouragement to achieve—these all contribute to the oldest child’s development. Sound pretty good? Or like a lot of pressure?

Can be both, of course.

Dalton Conley, author of The Pecking Order: A Bold New Look at How Family and Society Determine Who We Become, has told The Huffington Post, “The literature seems to have achieved a fair bit of consensus on the notion that first borns tend to be more rule-seeking, conscientious, and neurotic but score lower on dimensions of openness to new experience.”

The Middle Child

Receiver of less attention and aware of it, the middle often learns how to negotiate and compromise in order to “fit in” with everyone.

To raise awareness of their annual holiday, August 12th, Bruce Hopman started the International Middle Child Union. He’s the only member, however. And the holiday goes virtually unnoticed. “Our whole lives, middle children crave attention, but we’re always ignored, so it’s typical that someone would give us a holiday just so they could ignore it” (UPI).

Hopman’s blog, Smack Dab, introduces a set of greeting cards. Example: “Sorry we can’t be with you on Middle Child’s Day.” Open card to: “We’re having dinner with your brother and sister.”

Some of the adages Hopman calls examples of MidKid Wisdom:

  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others are Middle Children.
  • The grass is always browner on the Middle Child’s side of the fence.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, blame the Middle Child.
  • Some see the glass half empty. Others see the glass half full. The Middle Child knows his siblings both had full glasses, and he got what was left over.

Katrin Schumann, co-author of another birth order book, The Secret Power of Middle Children, provides info on some of the positives, though: “Although middles are neglected, both by parents and researchers, they actually benefit from this in the long run. They become more independent, think outside the box, feel less pressure to conform, and are more empathetic. This gives them great skills as employees and also makes them excellent team players and partners” (Psychology Today).

The Youngest Child

Lian Dolan, The Huffington Post, lists—with humor—some youngest-child characteristics based on very personal observations of this particular birth order. Here’s a sampling:

  • Entitled to nothing. Really. Not even a seat at the dinner table is guaranteed.
  • Buys used cars, second -hand clothes and “vintage” furniture. What is this thing you call “first-hand?”
  • Will never make fiancée sit through the traditional post-engagement evening of Going Through the Family Photo Album to Look at Pictures of Childhood because there are no pictures of childhood.
  • Constantly surprises older siblings with references to “playing on the high school tennis team” or “going to college,” as older siblings have no recollection of any of these events.
  • Occasionally stuns family with competency…But still treated like 14-year old.
  • Barely got a word in edgewise until age.
  • Now a very good listener.
  • Leaves the room when older siblings reminisce about “the Christmas we all got new skis.”
  • Learns from others’ mistakes.
  • Stays under radar.
  • Gets away with murder.

The Only Child

Growing up as an only child, sometimes I have a hard time remembering everything is not about me. So I don’t. Emily Volman

In a previous post, I mentioned Lauren Sandler‘s book One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One. She found research to show that, myths to the contrary, only kids are often well adjusted kids. From her site:

Lonely. Selfish. Maladjusted. These are the words that Toni Falbo, the leading researcher in the tiny field of only child studies, uses to explain our image of, and anxiety about, only children. I’ll unpack the myth at length, but here’s a teaser. On loneliness: as kids, we’re usually fine. As adolescents, we’re often disempowered and isolated. As adults, we face the logistical and existential nightmare of our parents’ aging and death alone. But the good news is we develop the strongest primary relationships with ourselves. On selfishness: as long as we go to school, we’re plenty socialized to play well with others. On maladjustment: we’re fine. In fact, we’re pretty fantastic.

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