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The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities Paperback – July 31, 2012
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“Powerful advice … anchored in hard science and illuminated by vivid case examples.”—David M. Buss, author of Evolutionary Psychology
“Entertaining and provocative.”—Frank J. Sulloway, author of Born to Rebel
About the Author
Catherine Salmon, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands. She lives in Beaumont, California.
Katrin Schumann is a journalist, freelance editor, and mother of three. She lives in Dedham, Massachusetts.
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Top Customer Reviews
If you're looking for a book that attempts to explain the motivations and reasons behind the common behavioral traits exhibited by middle children, backed by sound research and empirical data...this is NOT that book.
The author makes numerous claims and statements about middle children but fails to provide the research to back them up. True, there is a bibliography at the end, but there aren't any footnotes or references to those items listed. And a full quarter of the bibiography are just websites, one of which is: "[...] (pg 270)
"Unhampered by set parental expectations and willing to try new things, middle children are more likely to be innovators than firstborns." (pg 97)
That's a pretty strong statement. Where's the evidence? To back that up, I'd want to see figures/data. Did she pull all the patents awarded within the last 100 years and determine how many were filed by middleborns vs. firstborns? Did she track down all the successful tech companies to be started within the last 20-30 years and see if they were middleborns vs. firstborns? No, she provides no research, footnote, or reference to how she came to this conclusion.
"In a position of relative weakness in terms of family hierarchy, middleborns empathize with those who are less fortunate and, as adults, often direct their passion and energy toward helping underdogs." (pg. 122)
Did she grab census/IRS data to see how many people worked in a non-profit or not-for-profit company to determine if there were more middleborns than firstborns? Did she grab tax returns to see the proportion of income donated to helping underdogs to see if middleborns donated more than firstborns? Did she poll/survey sports fans rooting for teams with lower odds to see if more middeborns than firstborns cheered for them? Or go to vegas to see the betting behaviors of middleborns vs. firstborns? Again, no evidence to support the above, so its just an opinion.
"Because midde children tend to see the big picture, valuing concepts and abstract ideas more highy than other birth orders, they're more likely to know when to keep going and when to call it quits." (pg. 145)
First of all, I don't even buy the premise that middleborns value concepts and abstracts more than others. But in this case, she does go on to point out an example of a middleborn with this quality: Donald Trump. This leads me to the second problem with this book, listed below. She does end the section citing a "Careerbuilder.com survey, middle children report that they are the most satisfied with their current positions than all the birth orders." (pg. 145). But is it too much to ask for details of that survey? What year was it conducted? How many participants? Was it nationwide, one industry, one company, self-reported on the internet, or administered at a workplace? For all we know, the survey was 10 people from one small company in Ohio.
"Middle children are highly social beings. They have better interpersonal skills than firstborns." (pg. 165)
BOOM! That's a huge statement. How did she arrive at that conclusion? Her only evidence is to cite that firstborns bully friends and take advantage of their age and size and that lastborns/only childs are spoiled and stubborn. So what? Because firstborns and lastborns are bullies and spoiled, that must mean middlechildren are the opposite and have great interpersonal skills?
The entire book is full of these, very strong statements about middleborns, but no data/research to support them.
Instead of research, she relies mainly on case studies/anecdotal evidence and tends to pick out truly exceptional people as examples of the traits she claims middle children exhibit. The problem with that is these examples aren't a very good reflection or representation of the middleborn population. She's targeted the most desirable middleborns to draw her conclusions. Science even has an official term for that, its called SAMPLING BIAS.
In chapter 2, the author cites Britney Spears as an example to define middleborns with respect to age gaps affecting true birth order. She concludes (pg 35), "What does this mean for middleborns? When a child is born within a couple of years of their older and younger siblings, this makes them the most middeborn in nature." Essentially she's taken a celebrity, which achieved success since grade school on the Mickey Mouse Club, to draw conclusions for the entire middleborn population on family dynamics while growing up. I would argue that Britney Spears has not had what many of us would consider a typical childhood growing up with siblings.
The author goes on throughout the book citing "evidence" of these traits in middleborns by referencing Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Abraham Lincoln, Warren Buffett, etc. That's like pointing out that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg both dropped out of college and became billionaires, so the conclusion should be college dropouts tend to become billionaires. First of all, Gates and Zuckerberg GOT INTO HARVARD in order to drop out of college. For every famous and successful middleborn she cites, I'm sure there are 100s or 1000s of middleborns that haven't amounted to much in life. Her examples, I would argue, were truly exceptional and would have been successful regardless of their birth order.
"We need only look at a random sample of famous middles to see..." (pg. 170)
No, you don't want a sample of "famous" people. You want an extremely large and robust sample size of middles, with hopefully only a small number of "famous" outliers that would skew your data, so that you can draw meaningful conclusions about the mean/average middleborn.
The author makes some very strong statements and conclusions about middleborn children and the traits/behaviors they exhibit, but fails to provide enough evidence to back them up.
And these conclusions she makes about middleborns are very positive: they have great empathy, they're great listeners, they're independent, they're innovative, etc. I assume the 5 star ratings on here are from middleborns themselves who have read this and are now trying to attribute prior events to these conclusions. They want these conclusions to be true, because they're good, positive things.
As a middleborn, I picked up this book to try to determine why I'm so different from my siblings (1 older brother, 1 younger brother, all separated by 3 years...so by the author's own definition a true middleborn where gender and age gap aren't a factor). Why am I the only one who left home for college? Why am I the only one who moved across the country after college? Why am I the least closest to our parents? Etc...
Familial resources are scarce, from money to attention to time. I really do believe the author was on to something and that these middleborn behaviors arise from the different upbringing we experienced compared to our siblings. But she fails to provide any empirical data or even meaningful case studies to justify her conclusions.
Essentially this is just a feel-good, self-help book full of opinions...not any hard science.
I do not consider him a successful person, more like a successful con-artist.
So I have had to read through several of these analogies and its more than I care.
Just a suggestion but she should consider edit and re-write.
My one criticism of any birth order work is that it's too easy to find famous people whose lives fit a particular mold. It reminds me of horoscopes somewhat. We can all pick a particular sign, then go find a famous person who exemplifies most of the traits of that sign. Doing so doesn't prove anything even though many uncritical minds think it does. While I enjoyed reading about how famous middles exemplified a particular middleborn trait, I couldn't help but think that this is a classic case of a "model searching for data" rather than "data searching for a model." The former is a cardinal sin in the scientific world, but it happens all the time, especially in the softer sciences like psychology. Could an equally powerful set of examples be selected that would argue against the author's hypotheses? Still Salmon seems to be aware of the bias inherent in this type of research and is careful not to overstate what the data tells us.