What Is An Only Child? The Wikipedia Definition

It says something about society and its attitudes towards the subject of only children when even the Wikipedia Article on the subject is relatively short!  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Only_child


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. An “only child”, however may have half-siblings or step-siblings who come along considerably late (after he/she turns, say, 12) and still be considered an “only child”. 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: family planning, including financial issues, stress in the family, time constraints, fears over pregnancy, advanced age, infertility, personal preferences, and death of a sibling. Additionally, some parents decide to have only one child because they simply prefer it that way. Under the the One-child policy in Mainland China, subject to local relaxations, urban parents are prohibited by law to have more than one child.

In Western culture, only children are often subject to a stereotype that equates them with spoiled brats.

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.” 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.”

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.

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

In his book, Maybe One, Bill McKibben argues in favor of a one child policy based on this research. He argues that most cultural stereotypes are false, that there are not many differences between only children and other children, and where there are differences, they are favorable to the only child. Aside from scoring significantly better in achievement motivation, only children 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.”[6]


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