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Main article: Birth_order

An only child is a child with no siblings, either biological or adopted. Although first-born children may be considered temporary only children, and have a similar early family environment, the term only child is generally applied only to those individuals who never have siblings. Children with much older siblings may also have a similar family environment to only children.

Families may have an only child for a variety of reasons, including financial issues, stress in the family, time constraints, fears over pregnancy, advanced age, infertility, or death of a sibling. Additionally, some parents decide to have only one child because they simply prefer it that way. In China, parents are encouraged to have only one child with the One-child policy.

Stereotypes[edit | edit source]

G. Stanley Hall was one of the first experts to give only children a bad reputation when he referred to their situation as "a disease in itself." Even today, only children are commonly stereotyped as "spoiled, selfish and bratty."[1] Susan Newman, a social psychologist at Rutgers University and the author of Parenting an Only Child, says that this is a myth. "People articulate that only children are spoiled, they're aggressive, they're bossy, they're lonely, they're maladjusted," she said. The reality, according to Newman, is that "there have been hundreds and hundreds of research studies that show that only children are no different from their peers."[2]

Adler's theory[edit | edit source]

Alfred Adler (1870-1937), an Austrian psychiatrist and a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, was another early theorist who believed that only children were deficient. He argued that birth order leaves an indelible impression on an individual's style of life - that is, the individual's habitual way of dealing with the tasks of friendship, love, and work. Adler believed that because only children have no rivals for their parents' affection, they may be pampered and spoiled by their parents, particularly the mother. He suggested that this could later cause interpersonal difficulties if the person is not universally liked and admired.[3]

Scientific research[edit | edit source]

A 1987 quantitative review of 141 studies on 16 different personality traits contradicted Adler's theory by finding no evidence of any maladjustment in only children. The most important finding was that only children are not very different from children with siblings. The main exception to this was the finding that only children are higher in achievement motivation.[4] A second analysis revealed that only children, first-borns, and children with only one sibling score higher on tests of verbal ability than later-borns and children with multiple siblings.[5]

The advantage of only children in test scores and achievement motivation may be due to the greater amount of parental attention they receive. According to the Resource Dilution Model, parental resources (e.g. time to read to the child) are important in development. Because these resources are finite, children with many siblings receive fewer resources.[6]

Bill McKibben has published a book debasing negative stereotypes against only children by discussing the vast amount of research revealing the opposite of those stereotypes, that there are not many differences, and where there are differences, they are positive for only children. Aside from scoring significantly better in achievement motivation, only children also score significantly better in personal adjustment to new situations. Only children are also more likely to make outside friends, whereas children with siblings tend to be “more parochial and limited in their understanding of a variety of social roles.” [7] Within group settings, “onlies” are more likely to share, be calm and to be confident, and are generally more mature. While McKibben argues that this counters the hypothesis that the “country’s character would be substantially altered” [8] if people were to only have one child, the differences in character that have been demonstrated seem to suggest that the country’s character would in fact change, but in a positive direction.

The Big Five[edit | edit source]

Contemporary personality theorists generally agree that the "big five personality traits" (also known as Five Factor Model) represent a natural taxonomy of human personality variables. Across different languages, the vast majority of adjectives used to describe human personality fit into one of the following five areas, easily remembered by the acronym OCEAN: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Factor analyses of personality tests also tend to cluster around these five factors.

In his book Born to Rebel, Frank Sulloway provides evidence that birth order influences the development of Big Five personality traits. Sulloway suggests that firstborns and only children are more conscientious, more socially dominant, less agreeable, and less open to new ideas compared to laterborns.[9] However, his conclusions have been challenged by other researchers,[10] who argue that birth order effects are weak and inconsistent. In one of the largest studies conducted on the effect of birth order on the Big Five, data from a national sample of 9,664 subjects found no association between birth order and scores on the NEO PI-R personality test.[11]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • Belmont, M., & Marolla, F.A. (1973). Birth order, family size, and intelligence. Science 182: 1096–1101.

External links[edit | edit source]

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
  1. ABC News Retrieved on August 25th, 2008.
  2. ABC News Retrieved on August 25th, 2008.
  3. Adler, A. (1964). Problems of neurosis. New York: Harper and Row.
  4. Polit, D. F. & Falbo, T. (1987) Only children and personality development: A quantitative review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 309-325.
  5. Polit, D. F. & Falbo, T. (1988). The intellectual achievement of only children. Journal of Biosocial Science, 20, 275-285.
  6. Downey, D.B. (2001). Number of siblings and intellectual development: The resource dilution explanation. American Psychologist, 56, 497-504.
  7. McKibben, Bill. “One: a personal and Environmental Argument for Single-Child Families” Simon &Schuster, 1998, pg 37
  8. McKibben, Bill. “One: a personal and Environmental Argument for Single-Child Families” Simon &Schuster, 1998, pg 37
  9. Sulloway, F.J. (1996). Born to rebel: Birth order, family dynamics and creative lives. New York: Pantheon Books.
  10. Harris, J. R. (2006). No two alike: Human nature and human individuality. WW Norton & Company.
  11. Jefferson, T., Herbst, J. H., & McCrae, R. R. (1998). Associations between birth order and personality traits: Evidence from self-reports and observer ratings. Journal of Research in Personality, 32, 498-509.
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