Published: August 22, 2011
Stereotypes about middle children are hardly flattering. They're often described as confused underachievers, overshadowed by older and younger siblings, and overlooked by their parents.
But in The Secret Power of Middle Children Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann argue that many middle-borns have hidden strengths and are agents of change in business, politics and science.
Salmon and Schumann join NPR's Rebecca Roberts to discuss the perks of being a middle child.
On how middle siblings were classified in the past
Schumann: "So many people think the majority of presidents ... were actually firstborn. But that is a wrong statistic because firstborn girls were not counted as being older siblings. So even in terms of how we look at statistics, that's really changed over the years, along with women's [liberation] and the rise of feminism. So now we've come to understand that actually 52 percent of presidents are middle-borns."
On the benefits of life outside the firstborn's spotlight
Salmon: "If you think about it, parents have expectations for their children, and they often have very specific things that they want them to do or don't want them to do. And so being under the focus of that can be a lot of pressure for kids. So that's one negative of being, for example, a firstborn. There's an awful lot of pressure on you from your parents in terms of what you're going to achieve and what you're not going to achieve.
"But there's also a freedom that middle children have by virtue of not having those parental expectations on them. In a certain way they're free to find out what they really are good at on their own time and in their own way, and then excel at that."
On parental guilt about middle children
Schumann: "There are some hidden benefits to not focusing so much attention and concern and effort, and putting so much pressure on each child. And that is one of the hidden benefits that middle children get because they do have this sense of independence and they think outside the box a little bit more. And they're not afraid to look to their peers rather than always look above them to those higher in the hierarchy than they are, which means that they end up being quite open-minded."
On middle children's strength in times of stress
Salmon: "If you grow up in a family and the firstborn tends to have a certain amount of authority that's given to them by the parents, and they're physically larger, they tend to get what they want or get their way through physical force or the authority parents have given them. While for the last-born, as anyone who's had to deal with a lot of last-borns often knows, they tend to whine to the parents or get very upset if they don't get their way. And so that's their particular strategy for working out what needs to be worked out.
"For the middle child, neither of those strategies are available. So they often get very good at negotiating, figuring out what the other person wants and needs, and then managing to get them what they want and what the middle child themselves want at the same time. And, of course, one of the things that middle children often want is peace and calm and quiet and for everybody to get along. And so those traits then serve them well when they leave the family and go on to form their own families, and in the workplace." [Copyright 2013 NPR]
REBECCA ROBERTS, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Middle children face any number of stereotypes: confused underachievers overshadowed by their siblings, overlooked by their parents. They're sometimes referred to as the neglected birth order, and as many middle kids can tell you, that characterization is often dead wrong.
In a new book, University of Redlands psychology professor Catherine Salmon and journalist Katrin Schumann argue that middle-borns have hidden strengths. They're mavericks and risk-takers, and great negotiators.
We'd like to hear from the middle children in our audience. When did you realize that being a middle was an asset? Tell us your story. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Catherine Salmon joins us from a studio at Pomona College in Claremont, California. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
CATHERINE SALMON: Thank you for having me.
ROBERTS: And Katrin Schumann joins us from member station WBUR in Boston. Welcome to you.
KATRIN SCHUMANN: Hello, I'm glad to be here.
ROBERTS: They are the authors of "The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities." Nice to have you both with us. Catherine Salmon, just to be clear on how middle children are defined - because if you're in a family with more than three children, how do you say who is the middle?
SALMON: Well, really in a family with more than three children, there's more than one middle child. So anyone who is not the first- or not the last-born is an individual that we would consider to be a middle child - which doesn't mean to say that all middle children from the same family are exactly the same and have the exact, same experiences. But they would all fall into that particular category.
ROBERTS: And things that might affect their experiences include gender, age gap between them and the next sibling...
SALMON: Exactly, things like that. So obviously, in some families and in some cultures, what's important is not necessarily just being the firstborn, but actually being the firstborn boy. And also, the larger the birth spacing, the lesser the competition between individual siblings for the same resources. So that tends to dilute birth-order effects, to a certain extent.
ROBERTS: Now, birth order as a - you know, an effective role in the sort of adult you become has been studied quite a lot, although you say that there's been little research devoted to middle children, that it's been focused on firstborns and lastborns. And it's sort of been the negative effect for middle children, that they didn't get the firstborn or lastborn effect.
SALMON: Right. It's not just that they're neglected in the sense that they might get less parental investment, perhaps, or that they're somewhat overlooked. They actually are neglected by researchers themselves. And there's a vast literature on birth-order effects, and very little of it actually does the analysis with birth order of middle children actually separated out.
Most of the actual analyses would be the firstborns versus everybody else, as if the only important distinction is that you're the first.
ROBERTS: Now interestingly, doing, you know, this research in 2011 might be different than how it could have been done when some of the other birth-order research was done, in part because of some of these gender issues. Katrin Schumann, for instance, you know, in the past, maybe that oldest boy wouldn't be so much of a middle child if the siblings above him were sisters.
SCHUMANN: Well, that is correct, and it's interesting, actually, to note that so many people think the majority of presidents, for example, were actually firstborns. But that is a wrong statistic because firstborn girls were not counted as being older siblings.
So even in terms of how we look at statistics, that's really changed over the years, along with women's lib and the rise of feminism. So now, we've come to understand that there are actually 52 percent of presidents are middleborns. So there you see how statistics can be looked at very differently and counted differently, depending on the era that the research is undertaken.
ROBERTS: We have lots of callers on the line, lots of proud middle children. Let's start with Jeanie(ph) from Oakland. Jeanie, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
JEANIE: Thank you.
ROBERTS: Welcome to the program.
JEANIE: Thanks very much.
ROBERTS: Go ahead, you're on the air, Jeanie.
JJEANIE: OK, yeah. I guess what I was - when I realized that I was lucky to be a middle child was when I got married, and that was because I didn't have to decide between my two sisters who was going to be the maid of honor. So I was able to have one maid of honor and one matron of honor.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
JEANIE: And I didn't have to decide, where both sisters had to decide, you know, when they got married. So that was like oh, wow, I'm pretty psyched to be a middle kid because I don't have to choose.
ROBERTS: See, there are hidden advantages. Jeanie, thank you for your call. Let's hear from Greg(ph) in Grand Junction, Colorado. Greg, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
GREG: Yeah, thanks very much. So I'm number six of nine in my family, and I realized that it has benefits when I got older and had my own children, when I was kind of hovering over them and realizing that when I was little, no one bothered me, really. I did what I wanted to do, really, because there was a lot of older kids and a lot of younger kids, and so I was just doing my own thing.
ROBERTS: Greg, thanks for your call. And Catherine Salmon, you talk about this in the book - that actually, not having the bright spotlight of your parents' attention isn't necessarily neglect; it can be freedom.
SALMON: Oh, it can be incredibly beneficial because if you think about it, parents have expectations for their children, and they often have very specific things that they want them to do or they don't want them to do. And so being under the focus of that can be a lot of pressure for kids. And so that's one sort of negative of being - say, for example, a firstborn, is that there's an awful lot of pressure on you from your parents, in terms of what you're going to achieve and what you're not going to achieve.
But there's also a freedom that middle children have by virtue of not having those parental expectations on them - is that in a certain way, they're free to find out what they really are good at on their own time and in their own way, and then excel at that. And so I think there's actually a real benefit to that, especially in our modern society, where we often have so much parental supervision and so much parental control over what children are doing. There's a real freedom and an independence that comes from not having that kind of control.
ROBERTS: Well, again, this is another interesting point that this research is being done in this era as opposed to an earlier one, where we are in the era of helicopter parenting and, you know, parents taking an enormous interest in their children's activities. Does that mean that there are fewer, you know, of the classic neglected middle child around, that nobody gets to suffer from neglect anymore?
SCHUMANN: I think what ends up happening, actually, is that parents feel more guilt. It's not so much - there's a finite amount of time that you have as a parent to give to your children. And modern parents are very, very focused on this idea of quality time and really spending as much time as they can, and focusing a lot of attention on their children - which, of course, has benefits.
You know, we're not saying that neglect is a good thing here, necessarily. But what we are saying is that there are some hidden benefits to not focusing so much attention and concern and effort, and putting so much pressure on each child. And that is one of the hidden benefits that middle children get because they do have this sense of independence, and they think outside the box a little bit more, and they're not afraid to look to their peers rather than always look above them to those higher in the hierarchy than they are - which means that they end up being quite open-minded.
ROBERTS: We have an email from Sara(ph) in St. Louis, who says: I was well into adulthood when I realized my power as a middle child, namely my ability to defuse tense situations with humor. I often found myself quite literally in the middle of arguments between my two sisters. So to keep the peace, I would act silly or crack a joke.
I suppose this became my default mechanism because I can remember several situations when I used this to ease the tension I sensed between my parents, too. No, I did not become a comedian. But as a teacher, I found this technique quite useful. And I still find myself resorting to humor when we're together as sisters and as a family.
And this gets to the idea of middle children as terrific negotiators, people who are able to handle tense situations - which comes up again and again in your book.
SALMON: Yes. Well, I mean, part of the situation for middle children is that if you grew up in a family, and the firstborn tends to have a certain amount of authority that's given to them by the parents, and they're physically larger, they tend to get what they want or get their way through, you know, sort of either physical force or the authority parents have given them.
While for the lastborn, as anyone who's had to deal with a lot of lastborns often knows, they tend to whine to the parents or get very upset if they don't get their way. And so that's their particular strategy for working out what needs to be worked out.
For the middle child, neither of those strategies are available. And so they often get very good at negotiating, figuring out what the other person wants and needs, and then managing to get them what they want, and what the middle child themselves wants, at the same time. And of course, one of the things that middle children often want is peace and calm and quiet, and for everybody to get along.
And so those traits them serve them well when they leave the family, go on to form their own families, and in the workplace.
ROBERTS: Now, I should say that neither of you, Catherine Salmon or Katrin Schumann, are middle children. But Katrin, you have three children. So you must now sort of watch the negotiations among them with a slightly different eye.
SCHUMANN: That's right. It's been really fascinating, actually, working on this for the last few years. I've developed great insights into all of my children, actually, not just my middle child. But it has helped me in many ways, actually, parent my middle and, as I said, also shed some light on the first and the last and make me look at how I treat them and how I treat them differently, even though that is not my intention. That's just the way the day often ends up unfolding with them.
ROBERTS: And have you seen negotiations, strategies, or some of the other highlights of...
ROBERTS: ...research going on in your own family?
SCHUMANN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, I certainly have and - rather funny stories, that when my third child was born, my middle child was insanely jealous. She just could not contain herself. And she destroyed the birth announcement and, you know, had tantrums nonstop. And - but then as she got older, she became a more quiet and more independent child who would often be in her room and talking with her friends and being quite social. And this contrast between this sort of ebullient personality that she had had and then what I was seeing when she was entering her teens - I wouldn't say it caused me concern, but I did notice it. And I did wonder about it.
And, of course, one of the things that we talk about at some length in our book is the fact that middle children do tend to look toward their peer group and their friends to create, so to speak, their own kind of family in which they don't have to adhere to this hierarchy that they - that has been imposed on them in the family. So that, to me, was very interesting in respect to my middle child. I see that she's not withdrawing from me, per se. It's not an indication of any kind of alienation between her parents and between her. It's actually a sign of some really great strengths that she has.
ROBERTS: Let's take a call from Bryce in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Bryce, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
BRYCE: Hi. Thank you so much for having me on. Could not be more delighted with this conversation. I am absolutely the trailblazer middle child. I have an older brother and a younger brother, and we're all a year and a half apart. And I realized in junior high that not receiving that attention forged - me to discover a way to make attention for myself. And so in junior high, I decided that I would run for class president. And then I had my own platform where I didn't have to give in to the hierarchy because now I had my own stage in which people would listen to me and give me attention. And so I found out that not having that attention really allows me to forge my own path. And now I want to have a career in public service.
ROBERTS: There you go. Bryce, thank you so much for your call.
BRYCE: Oh, thank you.
SALMON: Bryce's is actually an excellent example of a situation where you're going to have very strong birth order effects, because not only was he a middle child, but he's the middle of three boys and born close together in age. That tends to make for the most extreme birth order differences as well.
ROBERTS: And is there sort of an over-under on that in terms of years apart of siblings, where it tends to make the most difference?
SALMON: Yeah. Anything that's really sort of in that - sort of like, say, three- to four-year range, anything under that tends to make those effects quite strong. If your children are five, six, seven years apart or even greater - as they are in some families - that tends to decrease it. So for example, one of the stories that we talk about in the book is like, Britney Spears family's birth order. She has an older brother and a younger sister. So she is a middle child, but she's not very middle child-like in many ways because she spent 10 years as the baby of the family, and then abruptly had that taken away by the birth of another sister. And so those big birth order differences - if you have 10 years, that child's personality is pretty settled by that point. And so, really, you end up having more like two babies of the family and no middle in that kind of situation.
ROBERTS: My guests are Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann. Their new book is called "The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
We have an email from Zach in Berkeley, Michigan. He says: I've been a middle child ever since my sister was born in 1991. Starting in adolescence, I've recognized that the products of my middle-child syndrome have been incredibly positive in my life. I've needed to define who I am earlier than my siblings because my place in the family was so ambiguous. Now, much to the dismay of my family, I'm the only sibling even considering moving to another state - a plan contingent upon a new job opportunity. I'm wondering if there are any studies indicating if middle children live farther away from their families than their siblings. And actually, as it happens, there are, Catherine Salmon.
SALMON: There are, certainly, some studies that show that not only do they often have less contact or may live further away from their birth families, but there are also individuals who do actually seem to take on jobs that often require them to either move away or to travel a lot with their work. And part of that is also their, you know, willingness to explore new things, their openness to new experiences. That curiosity about the world around them often leads them to want to experience new cultures. And so they're often really keen on having those kinds of experiences.
SCHUMANN: We don't think of middle children as risk takers at all. We always think that the last born is the risk taker, the creative one, the one who thinks outside the box. And that's actually really inaccurate. Middle children end up thinking outside the box and being quite willing to take risks. They don't take risks for risk's sake, so to speak. They measure - they take measured risks. And this means that they're really quite open-minded, and often likely to embrace something that is a little different than perhaps was expected for the other birth-order children.
ROBERTS: Well, that's actually played out in this email from Ellen in Mission Hills, Kansas. She says: I'm number four of seven daughters. And I have to say, I did have to stand out for attention. I was the first of the seven to leave Catholic school in 10th grade to attend public school, which was hard for my parents because we were white, and the program was to integrate an all-black school. It was the best move I ever made. I guess it was risk taking, but it was also liberating and produced the best friendships of my life. I ended up connecting with another student years later who I married, and am still married to and love for lots of reasons, one of which is that he also took the risk I did - to attend to school where we didn't know if we would succeed. We have only two daughters so the middle-child syndrome stops with me. But I love each of my six sisters in a unique way since I was never in either of the big girls' or the little girls' group. How do middle children generally fare as partners and parents?
SCHUMANN: Well, exceptionally well. And actually, what we have found is that middle children are quite close to their siblings. So while they may feel somewhat distanced from their parents and turn a little more to their social group and their friends, they are quite close to their siblings and rely on them emotionally for support.
And so once they become adults and think about parenthood themselves, they really embrace larger families. We did a survey for the - for our book that showed that 99 percent of the middleborns said they eagerly awaited families. They always expected to have their own families. And the majority of the middleborns who participated in our survey had three or more children. So they enjoy large families.
ROBERTS: We are talking with Katrin Schumann and Catherine Salmon. They are the authors of "The Secret Power of Middle Children." More about that secret power, and your calls, when we return from this quick break. And you can join us at 800-989-8255, or send us email, firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Rebecca Roberts. It's TALK OF THE NATION.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ROBERTS: Right now, we're talking about "The Secret Power of Middle Children." That's the title of a new book that aims to correct some of the stereotypes about middle kids. They often have significant advantages at home, at work, and as parents and friends.
Middle children in our audience, when did you realize that being a middle was an asset? Tell us your story. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guests are the co-authors of "The Secret Power of Middle Children," Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann. And we've been talking about all the wonderful things that middle children are capable of, that they don't necessarily get credit for. What are some of the potential pitfalls?
SALMON: Well, there are a number of pitfalls that they can run into. One of them is actually - it sort of comes across from something we think of as being very positive, which is that they don't like a lot of conflict and they're really good negotiators. And so one of the things is that they often - sometimes if they're not comfortable with brokering a conversation about something, they may just let it slide. So rather than have some sort of uncomfortable confrontation with someone that they're, for example, in a relationship with at work, they might let it go. And that, unfortunately, then can sometimes, down the road, sort of snowball and lead to resentments.
AAnd sort of related to that is a similar kind of problem that they run into for some of the same reasons, but mainly because they do tend to be people pleasers and again, don't like a lot of conflict. They're often extremely - as we've mentioned before - attached to their friends. And so one of the problems that they sometimes run into - they're great friends; everybody loves them as friends. But what happens sometimes is they'll put a lot of effort into doing things for their friends, and sometimes the friends will take advantage of that.
And they're not very good, often, at stepping back and then saying OK, what I really need to do is do things that are in my own best interests. That's not one of their strengths. And so that's one of the ways in which something that sometimes is a benefit for them can actually be problematic.
ROBERTS: We have email from Elizabeth in Boulder, Colorado, who says: I'm a middle child from a family of three, married to a middle child from a family of 11. He falls right in the middle of his siblings. I've never been so compatible with a partner, and I'm amazed at how similar we can be on so many dimensions, positive and negative.
So if both are people pleasers and not necessarily the first to stand up for their own self-interest, how does that work when two middles form a partnership?
SALMON: Well - exactly. That's one time when sometimes middles can run into a little bit of difficulty. If neither of them - if there's an issue and neither of them is willing to face it, then they can have a problem. Now, typically that's not what happens. And remember before what we said about not all middles being exactly the same. Often you'll have one member who's more of a people pleaser - often the female member of the partnership - than the other. And so typically, one will actually bring up, you know, and force the issue, and they'll work it out.
And in fact, actually, middles generally make good marital partners across the board. And studies that have been done to look at marital satisfaction show middleborns and their partners tend to be the most satisfied with the relationships. But the one where they sometimes can run into a little bit of trouble sometimes is that situation. If you have two people-pleasing middleborns, sometimes it's a challenge for them to actually get to talk about the things that might be bothering them.
ROBERTS: This is Audrey in Effie, Minnesota. Audrey, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
AUDREY: Yeah. Thanks for taking my call. Well, I'm a third of five, and I have four sisters and one brother. And when I was born, I was the youngest but just for - not even two years. It was very short period of time. And my older siblings - my two sisters - really tried to dominate me. But when my brother came along, I got insanely jealous. But as I was growing up, I found that I had a hard time deciding whether I fit in with the two older ones or the two younger ones. And so I would straddle both sides and go whatever way was having the best time.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
AUDREY: But as I got older - I'm certainly not the most financially successful of my siblings. But I feel like in many ways, I'm probably the happiest because I did move far away. I moved halfway across the country and did a lot of things that the rest of my family members thought were crazy, you know - like, why would you move to such a cold place? Why would you want to be, you know, go to Antarctica? Why would you want to do all these things? And - but as I also got older, my siblings started to have problems with anxiety issues and - every one of them did, except me. And - then they started calling me up and asking me, so what - why are you so happy? What's up with that?
So I felt that when I got older, I had all those issues that other people talked about - about using humor and trying to be, you know, in the middle and negotiate with people, but also kind of a strange risk taker, nothing that was going to be really dangerous. But then found out that I was actually looked up to by my siblings because I was a happy person and well-adjusted, and didn't need to go to, you know - I didn't have these anxiety issues and tensions in my life. So yeah, I feel like it really was a good thing for me to actually - I learned a lot by being in the middle.
ROBERTS: Audrey, thank you for your call. We have a similar email from Humayun(ph), who says that he's that middle child with three older and three younger siblings, and learned from the mistakes of my older siblings while trying to be a role model for the younger ones. And says, I do believe I have a power within me that has yet to be discovered and tapped. I'm just waiting for the right opportunity.
SCHUMANN: I think this experience that I'm hearing, of middles who come into their own as adults, is very interesting and really relevant to our discussion in this book because as children, middles are vying for their niche. They're not sure what their role is. They're trying to figure it out. Sometimes they may seem lost to their parents, or to other people looking in at the family. They seem,perhaps, somewhat less certain of themselves, less - maybe - formed as a particular, specific character.
But then as they mature and they begin achieving of their own accord, and they begin to make decisions about what's important in their lives, and they follow their passions according to their own instincts rather than listening too much to what other people are telling them to do, they do find that their self-esteem is strengthened. And as a result, they often end up in positions at work or with partners where they really are happier than their older or younger siblings are.
ROBERTS: We have an email from Tracy(ph) in Jacksonville, who says, my little sisters are twins. Despite being born so closely together, one is distinctly a middle child. Is this common?
SALMON: I wouldn't say that it's necessarily exactly common, but it's certainly true that in studies of twins, there often is one twin that has more of a - I don't know - a dominant role in the twinship. And so you can see, for example, and the way it's usually talked about us that there's one twin - the one that's born first sometimes does come across as being a little bit more dominant. They're sometimes a little bit bigger.
And so even when you have twins, they're not identical. And so they play a sort of interesting role in the family sort of dynamic because like, they're born, you know, in a sense, in the same position - they're the same age - but they often have quite strong differences between each other in certain things like dominance, for example, that can sort of shift things and so make one of them more a baby, and the other one either more a first or a middle, under some circumstances.
ROBERTS: Let's hear from Mike in Benicia, California. Mike, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
MIKE: Yes, hi. I just wanted to comment that listening to all this is very fascinating. And I'm discovering that in a lot of ways, I fit very well with the middle-child profile but in other ways, I'm totally opposite. So, for example, my brother is almost four years older and my sister is two years younger and, you know, I was keenly aware that I was the middle child. My parents always pointed that out. Maybe I kind of took on that persona, but I was very much conciliatory and a people person and a pleaser, and very averse to conflict in an overt way.
But I also notice that I revel in conflict more in a passive-aggressive way. And I'm married and divorced two times, so I don't know if I make a very good partner. There's a lot more I could say, but I don't want to take up all your time. So maybe you could comment on that kind of people who are kind of all over the map as a middle child.
ROBERTS: Mike, thanks for your call.
SALMON: Well, there's a number of different ways that you can look at it and talk about it. And one of the things that is always important to remember is that birth order is not the only thing that shapes your personality or your life. One of the things we talk about it the book is that, you know, originally birth order research came out of the idea that, you know, parents wondered, well, why are my children so different? They have my genes and my husband's genes, and they grow up in the same home. And yet they're so different.
And you know, part of the point is, well, they don't get the exact, same genes from both of you, and so there's some genetic differences that go into their personalities. But there are also differences, of course, then, in the way children experience the family growing up that shape their personalities. So birth order is not the only thing, and so there's obviously other things that can play a role as well in shaping your adult personality and the way that you handle relationships.
And so I think it would be surprising if you always saw that every middle child fit all of the different things that we talked about in the book because, again, there's many different factors that influence it as well as birth order.
ROBERTS: One of the middle-child traits that we haven't talked about very much yet is this justice-seeking that middle children tend to embody. What's that about?
SCHUMANN: I think this one is a really fascinating one because we don't often think of middle children in this vein. But as we've talked about before, they're highly empathetic. They can see issues from all different angles. They become savvy at a fairly early age in terms of negotiation, getting what they want, thinking about what's really happening. They have great emotional intelligence. And so this means that they are more flexible, and they are more empathetic.
They do - we looked at studies that show them to be more altruistic than the other birth orders. A big survey done by careerbuilder.com revealed that they earn less money than other birth orders do, but they're happier in their careers. They tend to go more toward careers and hobbies and lifestyles that fulfill their passions and give them a sense of meaning. So the fact that they're justice seekers actually fits really quiet well with the experiences that they've had in their family. They tend to care a lot about fairness and justice when they become adults.
ROBERTS: We're talking about "The Secret Power of Middle Children," with Catherine Salmon and Katrin Schumann. And you can join us 800-989-8255. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. This is Amy in Sacramento. Amy, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
AMY: Hi. Thank you for having me - or for letting me share. I've been listening to this whole show going, oh my gosh, it's so true, and then there's other parts I'm like, wow, I didn't realize that. But for me, I am the third girl of four children, so I have an older sister and a younger sister. And we're only about a year, a year and a half apart. So growing up, I was always odd man out, kind of did my own thing. My mom always said oh, you just - you're your own little person.
And it wasn't until I was in graduate school, getting my degree in counseling, that I realized wow, I have such flexible sort of negotiating, communicating skills that really serve me well, especially in my profession now as a high school counselor, because I'm working with everyone on campus - kind of the nucleus, you know, of the school. And it's very natural for me to be able to see different perspectives and really be empathetic and understanding.
But, you know, now looking back, I realize I learned a lot of leadership skills being an older sister to my younger sister, but also learning how to ask for help and get direction, being, you know, a younger sister to an older sister. So for me, I feel like being the middle girl has totally served me well. It's been awesome so - good experience.
ROBERTS: Amy, thanks for your call. You know, that experience of both taking orders and giving them, you know, not being at either the top or the bottom of the pecking order, seems to have served a lot of our callers well. Let's hear from Lisa in Chicago. Lisa, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.
LISA: Hello. How are you?
LISA: This conversation has been so fascinating to me too, and you just made a comment a short time ago about justice. And I think that that's so true of middle children. I'm the middle of three girls, and I ended up being - becoming an attorney. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact of perceiving things as a child as being unfair to the middle child.
AMY: I also wanted to make the comment that I'm now the mother of three children, all the same sex. I have three boys, and I think I've worked really hard to try to make sure that my middle son doesn't perceive that there's unfairness directed at him just because he's the middle. And I think my parents were great parents. And I never felt like they loved me any less. But I do think things were unfair - like that the oldest child got advantages from being the oldest, and the baby always got special attention from being the baby. So I tried very hard not to do that.
ROBERTS: Lisa, thank you for your call. What is the data about middle children as parents? Do they tend to be more sensitive than those that were a different birth order?
SCHUMANN: Well, we did find, actually, interestingly - which fits well with the last caller - that middle children do treat each of their children as individuals - which of course, is a parenting quality that hopefully every parent would at least try to share. It's never a good idea to treat your children differently, and it's always important to recognize that they are very different and unique individuals who might require different skills of you. And middle children, in the survey that we did specifically for this book, revealed themselves as really being concerned about that, and understanding that each of their children is a unique individual.
ROBERTS: It's funny because we've talked about the advantages of being not in your parents' spotlight, and then perhaps middle children as parents want to shine the spotlight more thoroughly on their kids in order to avoid that neglect.
SCHUMANN: Well, they don't spoil their children. They actually don't overcompensate by, you know, coddling their children. That is not what we found. Actually, we found that they are - they find a very nice balance between being authoritative and permissive. So they don't, you know, rule by, you know, with a hard hand. They're not authoritarian. But they like to have a household that is a well-run and efficient, where they have rules and so on.
But they also reveal themselves to be somewhat permissive - and perhaps more permissive than we expected when we conducted this survey, which is a result of them being interested in all sides of the argument. You know, they might engage in more of a discussion with their children than another birth order would, and they might take into account their child's opinion more than other birth orders would. But that doesn't mean that they will always give in to their children. So it's a not a lax kind of permissiveness.
ROBERTS: That's Katrin Schumann, a journalist and freelance editor. She joined us from member station WBUR in Boston. And Catherine Salmon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California - she joined us from a studio at Pomona College in Claremont, California. They are the authors of "The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities." And you can find an excerpt from the book at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Thank you so much, to you both.
Tomorrow, we'll talk with Randall Kennedy about race, politics and the Obama presidency. His new book is titled "The Persistence of the Color Line." Join us for that conversation tomorrow. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Rebecca Roberts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.