Older children are smarter
Much research, including a recent study from The University of Edinburgh, shows that oldest children tend to have higher IQs than subsequent children. This could be because parents provide more mental stimulation to their firstborn. “The time that parents have available to read to their first child, to explain things, is greater,” Wallace says. “Parents tend to talk to the oldest more—whether they’re home or going for a walk outside. Parents might ask ‘Why do you think the sky is blue?’ or ‘Why do you think the leaves are turning color?'” Older children then develop more analytic and conceptual thinking skills. This could be why 21 of the first 23 NASA astronauts were firstborns. “They have larger vocabularies and learn to think like adults, which is why they are so responsible,” says Linda Campbell, PhD, psychologist at University of Georgia and a leading researcher in birth order. But the downside of this added parental attention is that firstborns feel more pressured to do well. “The oldest can become a perfectionist, and then worry that if they don’t get things perfect they’re not valuable or lovable,” Wallace says.
Middle children are creative
“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” Everyone remembers Jan Brady’s classic middle-child cry on The Brady Bunch. And it does seem that the stereotype is often true. “The parents are very busy with the older child, who is either going on their first sleepover or starting high school or going on the first date,” Wallace says. “And the younger child needs so much help, so the middle child can really get lost in the shuffle.” Because everything the middle child is doing the eldest child has done before, they may feel lost. “The middle child doesn’t have a clear identity,” Wallace says. Even so, the constant companionship of siblings could be the reason middle children are less likely to be diagnosed with emotional disorders, according to a 2013 study from Spain. And having to find their own niche can often lead the middle child to branch out into other areas and become more creative, without the parental expectations eldest children face. “The middle child finds interesting ways to get attention, so you often get a middle child who’s an artist or a jokester,” Wallace says. If you’re a middle child and think you have middle child syndrome, think again, middle children have many hidden powers.
Middle children are good negotiators
Children born in the middle often end up playing the role of peacemaker between their siblings, and as such, also do well in leadership roles. A surprising fact: 52 percent of U.S. presidents, including Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, were middle kids, according to Katrin Schumann, co-author of The Secret Power of Middle Children. “It is true that middle children are squeezed, but they are great negotiators and compromisers because they have been called upon their entire lives to do so,” Dr. Campbell says. Their people skills were evidenced in a study showing middles do better in group situations than oldest or youngest children. “The middle child tends to know how to get along with people and calm a situation down—they can understand things from both angles,” Wallace says. They also tend to hold fairness and justice in high esteem: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela were also middle children. Their willingness to compromise also leads middles to be happier in marriage, according to an Israeli happiness study, says Schumann.