The Secret Power of

Middle Children

and REMARKABLE Abilities

In this counterintuitive book, psychologist Catherine Salmon and journalist Katrin Schumann combine science, history and real-life stories to reveal for the first time that our perception of middle children is dead wrong.

Did You KNOW?

  • Population
    Middles are a vanishing breed. There are around 70 million middles in the U.S today, but the average number of children per family now hovers around two.
  • Support
    Middleborns receive less financial and emotional support from parents, yet are far less likely than their siblings to be in therapy, get divorced or be neurotic.
  • Performance
    In a recent study, only 10 percent of middles said they feel close to their parents. As teens, middles are often stubbornly independent and seem withdrawn, yet they become great managers and team players as adults.
  • Careers
    Middles’ careers tend to be motivated by the search for justice and personal fulfillment rather than wealth—and they’re more likely to be arrested than firstborns!

Born in the MIDDLE

The Secret Power of
Middle Children

The myth-busting book on middleborns

We all know the stereotype: middle children are wallflowers, overshadowed by their siblings and neglected by their parents, and they turn into resentful, bitter adults. But if that is true, why are so many middle children throughout history—from Abraham Lincoln to Madonna—wildly successful?

With constructive advice on how to maximize the benefits and avoid the pitfalls of being a middle, Salmon and Schumann help middleborns, their parents and partners see how birth order can be used as a strategy for success.

About the AUTHORS

Catherine Salmon, Ph.D.

Dr. Catherine Salmon is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands. Her research interests cover everything from birth order and family dynamics to eating disorders, reproductive suppression, and sexuality. She holds a PhD in psychology and a BSc in biology from McMaster University. Salmon has been featured on Oxygen and the Science Channel, and co-authored (with Don Symons) Warrior Lovers: erotic fiction, evolution, and female sexuality. In addition, she has co-edited a variety of books, including the recent Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Family Psychology and writes a blog on birth order for Psychology Today, called Ape Girl. Born in Canada, she lives in southern California and is involved in animal rescue and rehabilitation. Catherine’s University of Redlands Page

Katrin Schumann

For the past ten years, Katrin Schumann has been specializing in collaborative writing, editing and teaching (most recently at a women’s prison). Schumann’s first book, Mothers Need Time-Outs, Too, is for stressed out modern mothers. She has been featured on TODAY, and her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and radio nationally and internationally. Granted scholarships to Oxford University and Stanford, Schumann is the recipient of the Kogan Media Award. Before going freelance, she worked behind-the-scenes in television and at NPR stations throughout the U.S. Schumann was born in Germany, grew up in New York and London, and now lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children. Katrin’s Website

MEDIA Coverage

  On Midday Magazine 

               Katrin's article

Contact Us

We love to talk to book groups and speak at conferences.

To schedule interviews or request additional materials, please contact Courtney Nobile at 212.366.2230 or email


It's all about the family
Ask anyone how family dynamics shapes their vision of themselves, their relationships at work or at home, and their hopes for the future, and you’re bound to get an earful. Yet, while many books have explored the subject of birth order, not one of them has been specifically aimed at middleborns. There’s a distinct lack of good research out there on middle children and, as a result, these false assumptions about them are perpetuated.

Initially, my research in graduate school focused on gender differences, but what I discovered along the way surprised me. In one of my first studies, I asked three hundred male and female undergraduate students about the nature of their family relationships, posing such questions as, “Who, out of all the people you know, are you closest to?”  While 64 percent of firstborns named one of their parents, only 39 percent of lastborns did—and, most surprisingly, only 10 percent of middleborns said they were closest to their parents. The same basic pattern was replicated in a later study of mine, as well as several overseas studies conducted by other researchers.

This was news to me. I was discovering that birth order has a far greater impact on some aspects of family relationships than gender. And middles were proving themselves, yet again, to be different not only from firsts, but also from lasts. As I continued my research, I found that middleborns felt less close to their parents, kept in less frequent contact with them once they moved away from home (typically when going to college), were less invested in their own parents (both financially and time-wise), and more attached to their friends. I became fascinated by the seeming paradox in middles’ personalities. The middleborns I knew personally and read about were so successful, but the research shows that middles are distant from their families, feel less powerful than their siblings, and are overlooked and underappreciated by the general public. How could that be?

While reading realms of psychological literature on birth order, I consistently found very little information focusing on middleborns as a distinctive group. Most often they were thrown into the same category as lastborns, creating the “laterborn” group. In the 1980’s, Jeanne Kidwell wrote cogently about middle children, yet since then, much of the work produced has not been backed up by solid theory. But one startling and welcome exception to this was Frank Sulloway’s 1996 book, Born to Rebel.

Sulloway sat on my thesis defense committee. As a 26-year old PhD student at McMaster University, I entered the echoing examination room with serious butterflies in my stomach. Already a famous expert back then, Frank Sulloway was more intent on putting me at ease than making me feel like a fool (something many thesis committee members often seem intent on). But it wasn’t simply his supportive attitude that inspired me; it was also his groundbreaking work. Here, in his book, was solid psychological theory on birth order that made predictions and then tested them. And yet, like so many other professionals in the field, Sulloway also focused on firstborns versus laterborns.
Once again, middles were in the shadows.I saw an exciting opportunity and grabbed it. The study of middleborns became my niche.
The enduring myths

Middleborns make up a significant proportion of the population: after all, every family with three or more children has at least one middleborn. While there are around 70 million middles in America (counting adults and children), there’s been remarkably little focus on understanding the role birth order has played in shaping their lives. They’re often referred to as “the neglected birth order”—a reference both to the way they’ve experienced their family growing up, and the way they’ve been overlooked by researchers.
But what do people really think about middles? One study from the City College of New York asked participants to list three words that described each birth order position, and then rate those words in terms of their positive or negative connotations. The firstborn position was seen as the most favored, with more positively viewed traits than negative ones.

Many traits, such as “ambitious” and “friendly,” were listed across several birth orders. However, middleborns were the only birth order that did not have the word “spoiled” as a descriptor. There were several traits that only appeared in relation to the middle position, including “neglected/overlooked” and “confused.” While they actually shared many positive terms such as “caring,” “outgoing,” and “responsible” with other birth orders, it’s often the traits that make someone different that stick in people’s heads. Would you remember that middles are “ambitious/achievers,” or only that they are “neglected” and “confused”?

A more recent study explored people’s beliefs about which features they attribute to which birth order so researchers could examine how those beliefs influence the way people act. This is important because, for instance, if you believe firstborns are more hardworking or intelligent than others, it could impact which employee you decide to promote. Our beliefs about people affect how we behave toward them. Researchers asked Stanford University undergraduates to complete questionnaires that had them rate only children, firstborns, middleborns, lastborns and themselves on five point scales, including such descriptors as agreeable-disagreeable; bold-timid; and creative-uncreative. Firstborns were seen as most intelligent, obedient, stable, and responsible. Lastborns were the most emotional, extraverted, irresponsible, and talkative.

And middles?

Middle children were perceived as most envious, and least bold and talkative. Not a very good showing for middles in terms of how others perceive them.

And let’s take a look at how birth order is portrayed in the media. Dozens and dozens of articles are focused on the so-called “middle child syndrome.” According to online, paper and magazine articles, this “syndrome” is characterized by:
  • neglect
  • resentment
  • low creativity
  • lack of career focus
  • a negative outlook on life
  • the feeling that they don’t belong
 The overall picture is tremendously negative. It portrays middleborns as unable to find their place in the world; shying away from the spotlight; bitter and resentful; underachievers; and loners. One author of a birth order book remarked that a reader had written to complain about how few pages were devoted to middles compared to other birth orders. The author quipped that only a middle child—neglected and envious—would care about something like that. Considering the lack of attention paid to them in research literature, I couldn’t help but feel for the reader, and be annoyed by the author. But it definitely reflects the way middles have been perceived. Up till now.

THE SECRET POWER OF MIDDLE CHILDREN will dismantle these out-dated middle child myths, and present a fascinating new character sketch. In reality, contrary to expectations, middleborns are agents of change in business, politics and science—more so than firstborns or lastborns. Middles are self-aware team players with remarkable diplomatic skills. Because they’re both outgoing and flexible, they tend to deal well with others, both in the workplace and at home. They’re more motivated by fairness than money when making life-choices, and have a deep sense of family, friends and loyalty. History shows them to be risktakers and trailblazers, yet they do suffer needlessly from poor self-esteem. Through this book, I hope to set the record straight.