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Tilting at Windmills

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June 22, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

STUCK IN THE MIDDLE AGAIN....OK, fine. Firstborns have higher IQs while lastborns are provocative and revolutionary. Yada yada yada. But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver?

Kevin Drum 12:14 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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Yes. Another installment of simple....

Posted by: qwerty on June 22, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Your liver will be helpful when we first-borns need a piece.

Posted by: dbomp on June 22, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Not chopped liver, pate.

I think my siblings are going to cry foul over this report. I have the highest IQ in my family and I was last born.

Posted by: danielg on June 22, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

That's odd. My middle son is the genius. I refused to let them bump him up to third grade from first(he's smart but not mature-little heathen he is) so they just gave him third grade work in his first grade class.

I'm first born though...

Posted by: elmo on June 22, 2007 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

What about only children? (onlies?)

And if the middles are chopped liver, what does that make the last-borns?

Posted by: LAS on June 22, 2007 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone know the birth order for the staff at the National Review and the Standard? Are contraceptive failures included

Posted by: Paul Gottlieb on June 22, 2007 at 12:29 PM | PERMALINK

As I recall from grade school, the one in the middle is the green kangaroo.

Posted by: John on June 22, 2007 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

If you read the research, it isn't first borns per se. It is the child that is the oldest. That is, if the first born dies, the second born becomes the oldest and then gets a higher IQ out of it. Which would suggest that it is the treatment of the eldest that is contributing those few extra points (literally only a few (max average of 4)). Having them help others (most likely the younger kids) seems to be the likely culprit. So if the parents make the middle child help the youngest...and make the youngest help the neighbor's kid then all of your kids can have a higher IQ.

Posted by: Keith on June 22, 2007 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver? —Kevin Drum

No. You are what you have always been, the "problem child."

Posted by: JeffII on June 22, 2007 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

What Keith said. Except and also that it isn't the youngest that the study considers, but the child next younger than the eldest.

Posted by: dr on June 22, 2007 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

I recall reading similar research from several years ago that indicated the second born usually has the highest IQ, best general health, and greatest lifespan. I particularly remembered that since I am a second born. IIRC the theory was that the first born is the mother's reproductive system's "test run" and the second time it does a better job.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on June 22, 2007 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Middleborns knock over blocks and ruin everything!

Posted by: Brojo on June 22, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver?

Gawd....middle child syndrome rears its ugly head again...

Posted by: mitch on June 22, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

First borns are least happy, however. It's the parents 'test' baby and the parents are unsure and inexperienced. First borns often have their childhood truncated, being used as babysitters, examples, and human resources.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on June 22, 2007 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Um... the article doesn't say anything about "lastborns." It refers to firstborns versus "younger" children, which includes middle children. So it's probably better to find something else to worry about.

Posted by: Moke on June 22, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver?

No, just overly dramatic.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on June 22, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

The oldest sibling is at the the vanguard, and is more inclined to self-evaluate against adult standards. How did these researchers control for the possibility that the eldest simply takes testing more seriously and focuses more intently?

Posted by: chance on June 22, 2007 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I'm the middle of three. I used to kid my mother that the first time she gave birth, she didn't quite get it right; the second time, she did it perfectly; but then she did it a third time, pushing her luck, and it was less than perfect again.

Posted by: John Wilheim on June 22, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Whine, whine, whine. Could you be suffering from Dunning-Kruger effect?

Posted by: optical weenie on June 22, 2007 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Middleborns often forget what day of the week it is.

Where's the catblog? We need to move on with the chopped liver :-)

Posted by: wileycat on June 22, 2007 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Middleborns often forget the day of the week.

Chopped liver begone! Bring on the catblog :-)

Posted by: wileycat on June 22, 2007 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

optical weenie,
Everybody here is suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect. They've read the article, and now they know everything. Well, at least enough to be dangerous.

Posted by: DR on June 22, 2007 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK


Forgive me - I'm a firstborn. Bright, but have a hard time pushing buttons :-)

Posted by: wileycat on June 22, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK


Take a chill pill. As Keith said, the point spread on IQ in the most recent study is really, really small.

I'm the first of four. I probably am smarter than the second sibling (sister) and third (brother), but not much smarter. If the three of us sat around a table and we talked about any subject, an observer would have a hard time figuring out who's smartest. Most-educated? Me, and you could probably tell. But most raw brain power? Hard to tell. Sister and brother are really smart.

The fourth one (brother) isn't as smart as the rest of us, but it's probably true that he's the most beloved. So quit worrying about smarts.

Posted by: Thomasc on June 22, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

3 or 4 pts? *yawn* That was hardly worth reading Kevin's post, much less the link.

Posted by: jussumbody on June 22, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

My guess is that if the average difference in IQ between the eldest and other siblings is only in the neighborhood of 3 points, then most likely in a given family of 3, say, it is a sibling OTHER THAN the eldest who has the highest IQ, because of the significant degree of variability within families. And the larger the family, the more likely it will be that a sibling other than the eldest will have the highest IQ.

For whatever trivial significance this all might have, given that it's based purely on IQ.

My further guess is that if the eldest has a significant advantage in life over others, which may well be true, then IQ is practically the least of it. More likely, other factors such as discipline and drive play a greater role.

Posted by: frankly0 on June 22, 2007 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver?

Kevin has an excellent blog. George W. Bush is President. So, it seems the answer to Kevin's rhetorical question is Yes.

Posted by: ex-liberal on June 22, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

"What are we, chopped liver?"

No. More likely just the byproducts of a 1/2 case of PBR and a real good time.

Posted by: ny patriot on June 22, 2007 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK

My observation is first borns know the rules better, and take them more seriously, than those born later, which might explain doing better on IQ tests.

Posted by: Brojo on June 22, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

Who defines provocative?! And hand me that Molotov cocktail, please.

They never say in these studies (and if they did in this one I'll be embarrassed, because I didn't read it) whether this birth order stuff has a genetic as well as environmental component. I have one older sibling. She is adopted. I am not. How does this work for us?

Posted by: shortstop on June 22, 2007 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

I have the highest IQ in my family and I was last born.

You're just being provocative.

Posted by: Disputo on June 22, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

What are we, chopped liver?

Posted by: IMU on June 22, 2007 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

Just dumber, or did you not read the study.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on June 22, 2007 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

But what about middleborns? What are we, chopped liver?

Eh. In my family they go to medical school.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 22, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

I am the middleborn, and we have the best, uh, physical endowments.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

Marsha Marsha Marsha!!!

Washington Monthly's Marsha Drum. Interesting ring.

Posted by: kchiker on June 22, 2007 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Just because someone is one does not mean he has one.

(Sorry. I couldn't resist.)

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on June 22, 2007 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

I am the middleborn, and we have the best, uh, physical endowments.

But who really needs that third eye?

Posted by: frankly0 on June 22, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Rant Alert:

I am the first child and I cannot claim to be even the second brightest bulb in my bunch of siblings. Plus, my tender development was hampered by child-rearing experimentation gone bad, as is the common fate of many a first child.

My next sister is sharp, revolutionary, and the only one of us siblings with a Bachelors, her own business, and other glorious achievements. You want the complete list, ask my folks.

The next sister down is a self-sacrificing health care worker, the mothering type, neglected; since by this time, all child-rearing experimentation had boiled down to barely noticing the kids.

The last child is a skilled craftsman, and as sweet a soul as you would want to meet.

Rant commencing:
This kind of thing is just another reason to stereotype people and put the diversity of human beings into easily recognizable one-size-fits-all catagories. Worse, these public announcements of medicore social value are taken on the level of gospel and haphazardly applied across the board by a less than scientific general public.

Crap like this is flat dangerous. There are little children who are listening when a parent says it is their sibling who "is the SMART one" or after a weak attempt at the bassoon has to live up to all the relatives being told "she is the MUSICAL one in the family."

This is another way of stemming the free budding of little lives who have enough to contend with: societal/sexual/gender roles, conformity/performance/parental expectations, beauty standards and on and on. This seems as scientificly viable as defining ones child by their astrology sign. I am a Pisces by the way...I wonder if our purported dreaminess lends to my failure in being unable to fulfill my place as First Born with Higher IQ?

Rant complete...

Posted by: Eldest Zit on June 22, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I read a sysnopsis of the paper in LA Times.

The results of this study are applicable ONLY to Norwegian born males, since that was all their sample contained.

Looks like most of us middlings can stop feeling like chopped liver.

Posted by: optical weenie on June 22, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Middleborns are also more empathetic and better in the sack.

Firstborns often have time to get set in their ways, and then expect people to always treat them the way they have and everything to stay the same after other children are born. Middleborns have more of an opportunity to deal with a variety of characters (the elder child/children, and perhaps the youngest child before the middle child has gone through much development). By the time the lastborn comes around, the parents are ready to baby him/her and their behavior is so decided that everyone else falls in lockstep, and thus the lastborn is not as empathetic and kind of expects that treatment from everyone.

Middleborns are also more likely to figure out how IQ tests are actually flawed and favor firstborns and lastborns, because that's how superintelligent we are.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

"Middleborns are nice to marry" so goes the phrase.

I think it's true, speaking as a first-born (I didn't like it, BTW), married to a last-born.

I'm not really sure I believe these data. Of course we are all "our own N of one," but as the oldest of 5, I think I have the lowest IQ of my four younger siblings.

Posted by: MaxGowan on June 22, 2007 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Are middle-borns chopped liver? Well .... Yeah.

But they are needed as spares in case something happens to the first born. Sort of like that dinky little emergency spare that is designed to not take up excess space in the trunk.

What did you think? Kevin? Your birth-order envy is showing, and there is nothing you can do about it. you'll never be able to forget - your parents loved the first-born before you.

[Let's not discuss the egotism of first-borns, OK?]

Posted by: Rick B on June 22, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

Me and Kevin Drum know that middleborns have the schlongs of champions. The rest of you are all wannabes.

Middleborn women are finer than their siblings, too.

The theory is that during the first pregnancy, the mother's body is getting rid of all the crap, Danny DeVito DNA, to make room for all the good DNA that will come during the second pregnancy, when the parents are more experienced and affluent and the child will have a greater chance to survive. This is natural selection from hundreds and thousands of years ago, still working today.

The comments at 1:56 and 2:11 demonstrate the kind of outside-the-box thinking that makes middleborns longer living, more successful, more fun to be around, and have more friends. Yes, it truly is great to be a middleborn!!

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

Shakespeare was a second or third child.

Here is a coincidental article about a two year old with a 152 IQ who is the last of several.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 2:46 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you're a middle-born like me!

I think all my siblings are brilliant, but in different ways. I am just more brilliant than they are ;-)

I read a whole book once on birth order. It turns out that the age difference and circumstances are important as well. A second-born with more than a 5 year difference to the oldest is considered to have the same characteristics as an only born, for example.

Posted by: Michèle on June 22, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

oops, I forgot to add, since I am the only one in the family with a different blood type from the rest, no one can count on me for spare parts.

Posted by: Michele on June 22, 2007 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

At the sight of the middleborn's massive schlong, elder-borns often develop inferiority complexes.

This explains why firstborns are often a-holes while onlies aren't necessarily.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

I was adopted and so was my younger sister. We were both the first-born of our un-related birth parents.

She has always significantly resented that I even occupy the same planet she does.

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Here is a bit more information on birth-order effects from the authors themselves.

Posted by: idlemind on June 22, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Middleborns tend to be mediators.

Otherwise, they are like toaster ovens.

BTW Firstborn talking here...

Posted by: Ranger Jay on June 22, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

So we read the article and find out that the difference is 3 points....which is deemed significant. We never see the distributions, so we don't know what they mean by significant. I mean, 3 points, give me a break, any one person's IQ can vary by 3 points depending on whether they ate breakfast that day, feel ill or not, or even the time of day, level of fatigue, blah blah blah...

Posted by: Carol on June 22, 2007 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

I think IQ is a ridiculous measure anyway, if it is a measure.

Posted by: David in NY on June 22, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

what about muggleborn? (idd = ugg)

Posted by: DB on June 22, 2007 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

If I wasn't a middleborn, I would find a way to become one.

Posted by: Swan on June 22, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

IQ tests are indeed a joke.

But I'll be sure to mention the findings next time I see my stupid 18-months-younger-than-me sister.

Sibling rivalry never dies. (3 points, beeyotch!!!)

"yeah but I make more money th-"

"yeah but I'm happier than y-"
Two words:

What would it cost to bronze a newspaper article?

Posted by: the elder on June 22, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

We are chopped liver, but only inside the family. It's why we all go into the world, and grab and enjoy it all so much. (And build our own support systems outside the family structures and limitations) : >

Posted by: amberglow on June 22, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

Related thing: my little brother (the 3rd of 3, the baby) has always believed he wasn't pushed enough at all, compared to the 2 of us older ones. Maybe you can get too relaxed?

Posted by: amberglow on June 22, 2007 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK

I once took an Educational Psychology class that used a book on birth order as the main text. I vaguely recall that the “middle child”—also known as the “sandwich” child—had a difficult position. He was not doted on, like the oldest, and not babied, like the youngest.

The teacher also said that the middle child had an especially difficult time if the oldest and youngest were both of the opposite sex—for example, a male with an older and younger sister.

One student in the class, who happened to be Catholic, challenged the teacher to describe the personalities of her 11 brothers and sisters. He explained that families often form subsets, or groups, that influence each other like mini-families. He was especially intrigued by one of the later-born boys in the family who had two older sisters and two younger sisters. He predicted that he would probably have a difficult time with women and asked what had become of him.

Everyone laughed when she told us that he became a priest.

Posted by: emmarose on June 22, 2007 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

As Woody Allen said in Antz, "When you're the middle child in a family of six million, you get no attention."

Posted by: cld on June 22, 2007 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

This is a good argument for population control: the fewer children, the higher average IQ (relative to a given benchmark of course.)

Posted by: Neil B. on June 22, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

No, more like split pea soup.

Posted by: dkm on June 22, 2007 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's kind of like the Republican Senator Fred Thompson BOOM....

I was just watching PBS Washington Week and I CANNOT believe that NOBODY ask the big question to Washington Post Columnist and Feature Writer Jeffrey Birnbaum (he is certified Bush *ss-kisser) that since Fred Thompson is pushing so darn hard for a Libby Pardon, (I mean, what with Bushie at 26 percent in polls and all,) just how well is Freddy going to do, really?

That question would have been my very first question BUT nobody asked it.

Someone should certainly tell PBS that Dems are in control now.

BTW, you should really watch Bill Moyers Journal- Bush really and completely put US government up for sales.

Posted by: Again_its_me on June 22, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

I happen to be the youngest of 6. In my family I would probably go along with the eldest being the smartest but I don't think any one of us is significantly less intelligent than any of the others. I have to agree with whoever said it has to do more with discipline and drive. I do have a question. Did they include developmentally disabled children in here. I would guess there are more younger developmentally disabled kids than older based on the parents being older when the younger kids are born. I have a large extended family of which 4 eldest would be considered the smartest. 2 middle is the smartest. 2 youngest are the smartest.Two are onlies. And BTW there's also being book smart and being street smart. There's too many variables especially now with blended families.

Posted by: warren terrah on June 22, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Nature versus nurture? Maybe heredity multiplied by nurture.
Three of us, with me in the middle, all with zest for living
and the knowledge, skills and abilities to do it well.
I had more freedom since I did not have children; they were more tied down.
(Maybe *I* was the smartest, ha ha)

Posted by: consider wisely always on June 23, 2007 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

Any assclown that tells you IQ is an indicator of anything other than ability to take IQ tests(and score well) deserves the company of anyone who believes them. Sure, it means something. But, what, precisely, is by no means irreducible to a few(under 100) paragraphs in the NYTimes.
My own personal case study suggests that regardless of how high one's IQ is, it is by no means a reliable indicator of academic achievement. Particularly in cases where the instructor is an assclown. Although it might be argued that instructor assclownery has an inverse effect especially in cases where IQ is positively correlated with muleheadedness.

Posted by: kenga on June 23, 2007 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

kenga, or anyone who can, if you ever see this:

Please describe just what makes someone an "assclown" in particular - that is such an evocative term. I was thinking Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) getting the pizza in class, but then you mentioned instructors ...

Posted by: Neil B. on June 24, 2007 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK



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