Advantages and Disadvantages of Only Children

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28 March 2016

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Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2006 suggests the fastest growing nuclear family unit has become the single-child household (Emma Sykes, 2011). According to figures released by the Office for National
Statistics, the UK has about 7.7million families with dependent children, of which 3.7 million have just one child, compared to three million with two and 1.1 million with three children or more (Simon Edge, 2013). Additionally, in the United States, the percentage of women who have one child has more than doubled in the past 20 years up from 10% to 13% (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2011). The issue of single-child households is a contemporary issue relevant to both children and parents in today’s modern society as the number of single-child households are rapidly growing throughout the 21st century.

There are increasing rates in single-child households. Single child households are rapidly growing in popularity making them a contemporary issue of the 21st century. There are many factors which influence parents to raise a single child. Additionally, there are many factors which effect the child due to them being raised without the influence of siblings. These aspects are going to be explored and focused on for the purposes of this investigation. The aim is to determine: “Are there more advantages or disadvantages when having an only child?” The following guide the discussion:

Why do parents choose to have an only child?
What are the advantages of having an only child?
What are the disadvantages of having an only child?

Both primary and secondary sources were used to gain information for the purposes of this investigation. Examples of secondary sources include the internet, books and other printed medias. The internet provided an assortment of sources. For example, reliable websites with statistics and informative information which related to the topic. Additionally, videos were sourced online. They were used to provide factual information and statistics relating to the topic. Due to the fact internet sites, books and printed media are secondary sources, it was noticed that they incorporated biased views as they were second hand opinions. In order to gain information which would assist with writing a reliable investigation and conclusion, interviews and surveys were conducted. Interviewees included: E Barbaro – Mother of four and grandmother to an only child. V Haynes – A former kindergarten teacher and mother of an only child. J Stefano – An only child.

The individuals interviewed all had the ability to provide strong opinions relating to the topic of only children as they were either an only child themselves, have raised an only child and/or gave opinions towards their thoughts on having siblings. Why do parents choose to have an only child?

Each individual to their own has their own beliefs relating to whether or not is beneficial to raise an only child, and that includes parents. Each parent to their own also has their own beliefs towards why they wish to raise a small family. The number of families today with just one dependent child is now 47 per cent and expected to rise to more than 50 in a decade. As the ONS confirms: “It appears that families are getting smaller” (Simon Edge, 2013). Firstly, it is believed that most parents make the decision to have an only child because it makes them happier. Professor Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania is one of the many to agree with this statement. He states that the only thing that a majority of parents take into consideration is their ‘wellbeing’.

According to Kohler, a parents happiness peaks at one child, and “having more makes you poorer, more tired and less content” (2013). Further evidence regarding parents raising a singular child comes from Havard psychologist; Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert supports Kohler’s views regarding the parents of singular children, and agrees that they choose to have one child as part of their personal wellbeing. Gilbert claims that “mothers are at their happiest during those moments when they are not looking after their kids. They prefer shopping, watching TV, exercising and eating” (2013). Gilbert’s studies have concluded that mothers consider interacting with their child is on a par with mopping the floor (Paul Meril, 2013).

Another to agree with these statements is author; Lauren Sandler who explores the topic of parents raising only children in her book: The One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One (2013). Sandler writes “they don’t like being parents (because they are selfish), or they care more about status – work, money, materialism – than their kid (because they are selfish), or the parents waited too long (because they are selfish)”. Unlike psycologists, Sandler has her own perception of the issue as she is an only child herself, and the mother of an only child. She explains that she wanted to have an only child for the same reasons as her mother did and that is; “to have a happy kid, my mother figured she needed to be a happy mother, and to be a happy mother, she needed to be a happy person.

To do that, she had to preserve her authentic self, which she could not imagine doing with a second child”. In order to test whether or not parents decide on raising a single child to benefit themselves, a survey was conducted by a group of mothers at a day care center who have chosen to raise an only child. Similar to what psychologists have suggested, 44% of the participants have agreed that they choose to have an only child as it beneficial to their personal wellbeing.

Despite the overwhelming amount of parents that claim that having an only child is beneficial to them, there were some who had contradicting views by adding: “When we got married we always wanted to have a big family. This choice was taken out of our hands and we had to depend on IVF to conceive and carry our only 4 year old child” (2013). Social psychologist, Susan Newman states: “women are getting married later, which raises infertility issues. Many women continue their careers even after they have a child, which makes having more than one child more difficult. Add with the financial stress of raising a child, it’s no wonder some couples stop at one” (Kristy MacKaben, 2013). It costs a significant amount of money to raise a child; clothing, medical care, schooling and some parents may decide that they can’t afford to have lots of children (Emma Sykes, 2011). Parents feel that they can give that one child more in comparison to giving more children less. “It improves their quality of life” says Newman.

What are the advantages of having an only child?
After conducting a survey and asking a group of people who had siblings whether or not they would prefer being an only child, 83% of the participants replied with yes.

When partipants were asked as to why they would prefer this, they claimed that only children have more advantages. Some being mothers themselves claimed that that the biggest advantage of having one child is the money. With each child, these expenses are more. By not having to spend more money on additional children, your only child can have more costly items (Holly Doorman, 2010). The financial implications of being an only child are numerous. Parents only have one child’s education to pay for, to clothe, to feed, to enroll in lessons or to invest in their financial security. Multiple children require parents to work harder to achieve larger salaries to support their children (Joys of Parenting, 2013). Social psychologist, Susan Newman states: “if you have a middle income, you’re going to spend roughly $286,000 to get them from birth to 18. That’s kind of staggering”.

Another major advantage of being an only child is the educational advantages. Only children are both the first born and the last born child. These children must assume both roles. These children tend to be more academically oriented, ambitious, conscientious, conforming, conservative and respectful of their parents (Holly Doorman, 2013). It turns out there is a significant difference when it comes to intelligence in only children and children from larger families. A landmark 20-year study showed that increased one-on-one parenting produces higher education levels, higher test scores and higher levels of achievement (Kristy Kackaben, 2013). Parents will have the money to spend on tutoring, tools, and the best schools. Parents also have the time to help with homework because you are not running after other children. With one child to give your attention to, it is much easier to find out if they are having problems in school (Holly Doorman, 2013).

Newman agrees by stating: “they have all their parents financial resources to get them extra lessons, to get them SAT training but more critical is the one-on-one time at the dinner table.” This results in more reading time, more homework time and eventually better test scores. One mother stated that: “I think we felt as a family that we were able to give our son more attention and spend more time together and really focus on him” (2013). By having only one child, the child’s and parent’s privacy becomes easier. One of the main advantages of being the only child ”that your parents pay attention only to you. You are the most important person in their lives. Parents do everything for you” (J Stefano, 2013). For example, if the child wishes for a new toy or some clothes, parents will simply buy it to fufill the child’s wants. For mother of only child, V Haynes, she states that: ”I generally purchase toys for my child in order to fufill their wants as they are lonely and do not have a sibling to bond with” (2013). Moreover, only children have everything to themselves. They will not have to share a room, the computer and any other things.

What are the disadvantages of having an only child?
In a 2013 study, data from from before and after the institution of China’s one-child policy has shown a causal link between being an only child and acquiring certain negative character traits. The study found that ‘onlies’ are “significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals” (Sandler, 2013). “The hardest part of being an only child is the stereotyping others create. Stereotypes make people assume that you are somebody that you are not” (J Stefano, 2013). The biggest disadvantage for only children is that they are generally percieved as ‘spoiled’ and/or ‘selfish’. Although disputed by scholars past and present (Polit & Falbo, 1987; 1988, Newman, 2011), the popular belief is that only children are self-centered, spoiled, in constant need of the spotlight, and socially inept (Stephen J Betchen, 2011).

The most common statement made by survey participants when asked for their thoughts on only children was that: “they are used to thinking that they are the most important people so they must have everything only for themselves” (2013). These stereotypes have all been derived from the work of a 19th century psychologist who famously concluded that, “being an only child is a disease in itself” (Lauren Smelcher Sams, 2013). The old stereotype of spoilt and selfish does no one justice (Carmel Egan, 2009). Due to stereotyping, when someone becomes knowledgable that someone they meet is an only child, it is most likely that they will behave differently towards them. They are often perceived as loners and their actions may be misinterpreted.This makes it more difficult for only children to establish friendships. Single children do not learn social skills with other children in the household.

Therefore, all of their social interactions must be gained in the world with other children (Joys of Parenting, 2013). When an only child is compared to a child that belongs to a large family, it is said that children from larger families are better off later in life since their parents take care of their needs but not their wants. Children from larger families learn the difference between wants and needs. They learn to wait for what they want, or to work and earn it themselves. Thus they are spared the corruptive influence of instant gratification. They internalize the virtues of patience and honorable ambition. They grow to become self-reliant self-starters (Lots of Kids, 2010). According to Professor Ralph, whilst children from larger families learn these things, only children rely and become more dependent on the parent (Emma Sykes, 2011) A major topic regarding only children is loneliness.

Many parents of only children deny their child freedom to explore the world in case something ‘bad’ were to happen to them (E Barbaro, 2013). There are “other children can go out when they please. For example , shopping with friends or going to a party. But being the only child means that parents put pressure on you. You have to still prove that you are the best. Instead you must focus on studies and have to maintain getting an a A for every test otherwise your parents will be disappointed with you” (J Stefano, 2013). Lastly, having an only child can be of a disadvantage to the family in later years. Bryan Caplan, author of Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids argues that it’s better to have more kids. He says “have the number of children that maximises average utility over your whole lifespan. When you’re 30, you might feel like two children is plenty, but once you’re 60, you are more likely to prefer 10 sons and daughters to keep you company and keep the grandkids coming” (2011). Conclusion

The rate of single child families is rapidly increasing in today’s current society. As the world is constantly evolving, so is the way parents choose have a family. The 21st century is different from the past as mothers are not required to ultimately spend all of their time being a housewife looking after children and completing household chores. Women now have careers and are more concerned about status work and materilism. With this factor in mind, it is no surprise that single child households are becoming a contemporary issue of the 21st century. Only children are becoming more accepted by society as it is becoming more common. It is now less likely for only children to be placed into stereotypical categories, and being percieved as ‘selfish’ and ‘spoiled’.

Despite this, only children are still identified for having these traits. A reason for this is that majority of parents raising single children do spend their money on them, as they have no other priorities. Other disadvantages are loneliness and the lack of freedom, leading to possible issues when interacting with other children. Altough there are quite a few negatives, they still do not outweigh the positive aspects of being an only child. Only children do get great advantages. For example, parents can spend all of their time on the child. That child is the number one priority. They can have a close relationship with parents and they do not have to share with others.

Despite this, it can lead to negative aspects where the child learns the ‘selfish’ traits and falls under stereotyping. The question: “Are there more advantages or disadvantages when having an only child?” cannot be fully supported. Who is to say whether or not there is a great advantage when having an only child, or whether it is a disadvantage. There is not enough information to fully support whether it is a good or bad thing. Every individual is different and the overall, the decision to raise an only child is ultimately up to the parents and whether their lifestyle fits one of a large or a small family. Less or more children for whatever personal reasons should just be accepted, as long as the children involved are happy. There is not one right or wrong answer.

Surveys with mothers and employees of a daycare center, 2013, ‘Are there more advantages or disadvantages when having an only child?’, August 22 E Barbaro, Interview, 2013
V Haynes, Interview, 2013
J Stefano, Interview, 2013
Secondary 1986. One Child Families: Advantages and Disadvantages of Having an Only Child. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 27th Aug 2013]. Caplan, B. 2011. Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids. The Perseus Books Group, p. Paperback, 288 pages. Emma Sykes. 2011. Triple P Podcast: Single Children – ABC

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