Losing the Middle Ground

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Middle children, your worst nightmare may be coming true: you really are fading into the background. In a cruel self-fulfilling twist on the Middle Child Syndrome, statistics show that a family’s ideal size has shrunk to two kids, leaving the middleborns to go the way of the mastadon. More than just numbers, those in the middle often exhibit strong traits of empathy, diplomacy, and liberalism. Adam Sternbergh of The Cut asks: what are we giving up as a culture if we lose the Jan Bradys?

According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 1976, “the average mother at the end of her childbearing years had given birth to more than three children.” Read that again: In the ’70s, four kids (or more) was the most common family unit. Back then, 40 percent of mothers between 40 and 44 had four or more children. Twenty-five percent had three kids; 24 percent had two; and 11 percent had one.

For Hopman, middle children are primarily distinguished by an inexhaustible need for attention, a description from which he does not exempt himself. “Britney Spears: middle child,” he points out. “Kesha: middle child. Nicki Minaj: middle child. Also a middle child: Don King.”

“Middle children are evaporating from life, and that isn’t good for all of us,” says Kevin Leman, who literally wrote the book on the subject, his 1985 The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are, which has sold over a million copies. “Middle children are like the peanut butter and jelly in the sandwich,” he explains. As for the coming extinction event, he says, “If you like a sandwich with nothing on it, enjoy.”

Birth order also appears to play a part in the decisions of Supreme Court justices. A 2015 paper in Law & Society Review found that, among the 55 justices who served from 1900 to 2010, oldest and only children showed a strong tendency toward conservative ideology, while middle and youngest children favored liberal decisions.

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