What’s up with Birth Order? 12 TV and Movie Characters Who Give Middle Children a Bad Rap

The other day my son ran over to a younger kid who was calling for someone to give him a push-start on the swings. I watched him talk to the little guy and then walk behind him, pull back the chains, and release. He stepped aside grinning and cheering, “You are doing it!” A mom who was standing near me and had watched the same moment leaned over and asked, “Is he your oldest?”

Was this small talk? Or was this mom picking up on a birth order personality trait? My son: the leader, the helper. These are firstborn personality traits. They also happen to be only-child personality traits, which is what my son is. As someone who was raised as an only child, I tend to shrug off the ideas of birth order defining personality, but I have friends with siblings who swear by it. I have actually had two friends meet for the first time, and when describing their family, go into this almost unspoken “I feel you” mind-meld when they realized they both had baby brothers with money problems.

So what’s the deal with birth order? Here is a (very) brief outline of some of the more common personality traits associated with each birth order.

Birth Order Personalities:

Only Child: Strong sense of what is “right” and “wrong,” uncomfortable with conflict, strong-willed, prefer order and constancy to surprise and change

First Born: Confident, determined, born leader, eager to please and avoid conflict, likes it when people stick to rules and order, strives toward achievement of goals

Middle Child: Used to not getting their own way and so they become savvy, skillful manipulators, justice seekers and focused on fairness, attuned to the needs of others, feels invisible, secretive

Youngest Child: Carefree, easygoing, fun-loving, affectionate and sociable, like to make people laugh, potential to be manipulative, spoiled, or babied to the point of helplessness

When it comes to pop culture, the middle child is portrayed the worst. Of course we all instantly think of Jan Brady as being the stereotypical middle child — always seeking approval and waiting for the one day where she can outshine big sister Marcia. Recently we watched Edith on Downton Abbey struggle with her own desires to break away from big sister Mary’s shadow.

The truth is middle children have gotten a pretty bad rap from the writers in Hollywood. Catherine Salmon, a psychology professor at California’s University of Redlands, believes that middle children grow up to be the best in everything from marriage to politics.

Salmon says, “To me, the things that are most important is that middle-borns have these great negotiating skills and they’re innovators. Their ability to think outside the box is something I’d like people to recognize.”

What do you think of birth order and personality traits? Do the theories hold up in your family?

12 TV and Movie Characters Who Give Middle Children a Bad Rap …

  • 12 TV and Movie Characters Who Give Middle Children a Bad Rap 1 of 13
    Birth Order in TV and Film (embracing the middle child)

    Eight of these children are the middle child and one is the first born. Can YOU tell the difference based on birth order personality traits?

  • Jan on The Brady Bunch 2 of 13

    Psychologist Kevin Leman thought the character of Jan in The Brady Bunch was such a classic case of a child expressing "middle child syndrome" that he started referring to it as "Jan's syndrome" in his bestseller, The Birth Order Book: Why You Are the Way You Are.  One of the most popular episodes of the entire series was "Her Sister's Shadow" where a frustrated Jan bemoaned, "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"


    Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Gary Ewing on Knots Landing 3 of 13

    Talk about middle child invisibility! The character of Gary Ewing was so invisible he wasn't even featured on Dallas. Instead, he was part of the successful spin-off, Knots Landing. I consider that a pretty good victory in escaping from big brother JR and little brother Bobby. 


    Image Credit: Mrs. JR Ewing

  • Simon in Alvin and the Chipmunks 4 of 13

    I am betting Simon carries a little history-rewrite chip on his shoulder. Originally the character of Simon was written as the eldest of the chipmunks, but at some point in the 1980s, Alvin indicates that he is the eldest. This must have really shifted things up with birth order hierarchy while out on tour! It's no wonder Alvin and Simon always seem to be fighting.


    Image Credit: Impawards

  • Dawn in Welcome to the Dollhouse 5 of 13

    Dawn is tragically fighting against middle child syndrome in Welcome to the Dollhouse. With a genius older brother and a little sister everyone adores, Dawn just can't find her groove. She just can't win. Seriously. I think the only thing that will save Dawn is art school in a far away town where she can start over and find her people. 


    Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Edith in Downton Abbey 6 of 13
    Patt Morrison from the LA Times calls Downton Abbey's Edith a paradox. He says, "Middles are supposed to be the quiet ones, which she is, but they're also supposed to be the agreeable ones, the peacemakers. And yet we see her jealously bringing scandal to the family by tattling on Mary's death-dealing romp with a Turkish diplomat." Now that there are only two sisters, I wonder if her character's birth order personality will change.   Image Credit: Masterpiece via IMDB
  • Edmund in The Chronicles of Narnia 7 of 13

    Edmund has been described as a middle child within The Chronicles of Narnia series and he has birth order behavior to back it up. Often thought of as rude and impulsive, he eventually mellowed with age. Well, at least we are told he did. It is a fairy tale after all. 


    Image Credit: Narnia Wiki

  • Leonard in The Big Bang Theory 8 of 13

    Leonard has an older sister who is a cutting edge medical researcher and a younger brother who is a Harvard law professor and is engaged to the youngest appellate court judge in New Jersey history. Despite his brilliance, he often feels like he can't achieve the approval of his parents. Such a Jan!


    Image Credit: Big Bang Wiki

  • Marianne in Sense and Sensibility 9 of 13

    Marianne in Sense and Sensibility is so determined to be the star of the family that she easily overpowers big sister Elinor and younger half-brother John. Marianne is literally the "sensibility," meaning she is spontaneous and romantic and BOLD. Everything about her screams: "Notice me!"


    Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Malcolm on Malcolm in the Middle 10 of 13

    Malcolm is in the middle of big brother Francis and little brother Reese. Francis is the instigator and troublemaker and Reese is a goof ball. What's that leave for Malcolm? Boy genius. 


    Image Credit: Wikipedia

  • Chris on Family Guy 11 of 13

    Family Guy shakes things up with middle child syndrome and birth order personalities. Big sister Meg is incredibly insecure and usually the first one picked on, while their little brother is a prodigy. This leaves middle child Chris in the role of oaf who doesn't seem to mind if anyone gives him attention. 


    Image Credit: IMDB

  • Stephanie on Full House 12 of 13

    Even though Full House's Stephanie lived in a world where the ratio of grown-up to kid was pretty awesome, she still felt like she was never getting enough attention. In a brilliant recap on Full House Reviewed, they do a great play-by-play of one of the more outstanding middle child-themed episodes, "Middle Age Crazy." In this episode, Stephanie announcing to her dad that she broke the hula hoop record at school is pushed to the sidelines so he can continue filming little sister, Michelle. Poor Steph.


    Image Credit: IMDB

  • Z in Antz 13 of 13

    Antz begins with Z explaining why he feels compelled to work so hard, "You know, my, my mother never had time for me. You know, when you're — when you're the middle child in a family of five million, you don't get any attention. I mean, how's it possible?" Tough break.


    Image Credit: Imp Awards

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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