Chantel Brink
Chantel Brink
January 14, 2024 ·  5 min read

The Pros and Cons of Being a Second-Born or Middle Child

Editor’s Note: Sections before “Why Middle Children Are Better at Innovation and Have Happier Relationships” have been added to provide more value to you, our reader!

Why is it that the moment you think you’re getting a grip on this parenting thing, the second child comes along to remind you that no, you don’t? You’ve heard it all before… Second-born or middle children often get a bad reputation. They’re resentful, jealous of their more successful (or cuter) siblings, and thought of as the family outsiders. (Sorry, we don’t mean to be bringers of bad news!) A January 2017 study even found a few eye-opening things that parents may want to know.

In short, MIT economist Joseph Doyle and his team studied thousands of families who had 2+ children. Their aim was to see whether or not the second-born child got into more trouble than their sibling(s). What they found was that second-born children behaved in more “challenging” ways. Sure, some challenging behavior is normal for any child. Their findings were more troubling than that, however. The study suggests that second-born kids are:

  • More likely to get in trouble at school
  • More likely to get in trouble with the court system
  • More likely to end up in prison

So, Are Second-Born Kids the Hardest to Parent?

“We consider differences in parental attention as a potential contributing factor to the gaps in delinquency across the birth order,” wrote the study authors.

But, don’t worry. Before any of you parents start panicking and questioning your parenting abilities or taking all the blame, there are other factors involved!

“The firstborn has role models, who are adults. And the second, later-born children have role models who are slightly irrational 2-year-olds, you know, their older siblings. Both the parental investments are different, and the sibling influences probably contribute to these differences we see in labor market and what we find in delinquency,” Doyle told NPR. “It’s just very difficult to separate those two things because they happen at the same time.”

As with any study like this one, take it with a grain of salt! Doyle and his team’s findings are not the be all end all. There are piles of papers stating the child x, y, or z are the “worst.” So, let’s look on the flip side… Although you might think that everything you knew about this less-favored birth order thing is wrong, studies show that second-born or middle children actually have something going for them!

Why Middle Children Are Better at Innovation and Have Happier Relationships

Middle children tend to be happier in relationships, have a larger group of friends and innovate more at work, according to Dr. Catherine Salmon, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Redlands and author of “The Secret Power of Middle Children.”

As middle children do, in fact, receive less attention, they also benefit from having more space and freedom, which helps them develop some pretty important attributes. We talked to Salmon about the three ways that we can all benefit by being more like middle children.

1) Take More Risks

Of course, gambling doesn’t always fare well, but taking risks can have huge rewards. Bill Gates, President Abraham Lincoln and Jennifer Lopez are all successful middle children known for being innovators – and risk takers. One study indicates that middle children are 50 percent more likely to support radical ideas, and half of the United States presidents have been middle children, including current President Donald Trump.

“They’re more open to the possibility of new knowledge, new ways of thinking about things, new ways of approaching things,” says Salmon. “That is a powerful thing for change.”

While there is no one career path middle children flock to, the expert says they often take an outside the box approach in any situation.

2) Learn to Negotiate

“All the negotiation skills they learn in the home to get what they need when there are other siblings that may be louder or smaller and cuter or whatever, those negotiation skills are helpful in relationships too,” says Salmon.

Because of this, the professor explains that middles tend to be good leaders, business people, friends and romantic partners. Middle children are able to meet the needs of others while still satisfying their own desires – an important skill that’s not always so easy to hone.

“You don’t want to screw the other person over all the time because eventually they’re not going to work with you,” she says.

Trump is a contentious topic now, but Salmon uses him as an example of someone who’s used good negotiation skills outside of politics.

“In his non-presidential life, many of the people he did business with were his friends,” she explains. “He was a good negotiator in that he largely didn’t screw over his partners.”

Though she admits it’s become increasingly more difficult to pinpoint the president’s true personality these days.

3) Deflate Your Ego

Middle-borns know it’s never all about them,” says Salmon. Because this birth order received less pressure from parents (first borns are the ones burdened with being perfect), attention and praise, their self-esteems are likely more accurate. The professor believes most people have inflated egos, which doesn’t always bode well for setting expectations in life. “You might have thought you were the best thing ever when you’re younger because that’s what everybody told you and that’s the feedback you got,” she asserts. “But that’s not realistic feedback. It almost sets you up for a fall. It sets you up to be confronted with the harsh reality that you may not be well prepared to meet.”

Instead, it’s important to remember that when things go wrong, it’s not always your fault (and it’s not always because of your genius intellect when things go right, either).

“There’s a combination of factors that influence these things,” reasons Salmon. “I think that’s useful in terms of understanding what’s going on around you and really appreciating what goes into your successes but also your failures.”

Read Next: This Is How the Order You Were Born in Shapes Your Personality