A recent edition of Time magazine has an interesting article on only children, "The Only Child:Debunking the Myths." It indicates that since the early '60s single-child families have almost doubled in number, to about 1 in 5. These days, the reason often seems to stem from economic concerns--in the current recession (or as some say "The Great Recession") more poeple are concerned about the costs of raising children, and decide to have just one. But it's a common notion that being the only child is not a good thing, right?
Bill McKibben, author of Maybe One says wrong. McKibben's book came out over 10 years ago and debunked the myths of the only child. He comes at it more from environmental, population and sustainability concerns, and takes on the long held bias.
It started in the late 1800’s with psychologist Stanley Hall. He was the Victorian era’s “Dr. Spock.” He did a study of “peculiar and exceptional children” with over a thousand children. “Peculiar and exceptional” was loosely defined, from psychical to physical reasons. Although 4% of those deemed peculiar and exceptional were only children, he concluded an only child is very likely to be peculiar and exceptional.
Even though studies after this would largely not stand up to the rigors of good research, the idea stuck, and the conventional wisdom to this day is that it is not good to have an only child. Since then, Hall's studies have been criticized for reflecting his own beliefs based on his boyhood experiences, which not so surprisingly included siblings.
Better studies to date say otherwise–acccording to Lauren Sandler of Time, "no one has done more to disprove Hall's stereotype than Toni Falbo, a professor of educational psychology and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin." Falbo started researching onlies in the 1970s in the U.S. and in China. She and Denise Polit reviewed over a 100 studies of onlies from as far back as 1925.
They found that onlies are not much different than other kids, except they tend to score higher on measures of intelligence and achievement. McKibben concers, and adds that they tend to have more internal locus of control. They are no more likely to be spoiled, pampered, lonely, shy or unpopular with their peers than kids with siblings.
Other positives: they do not get to experience sibling rivalry, which can make an impact on a person’s life, and they are not subject to “differential affection” – they do not have to compete for their parents’ attention.
McKibben argues that single kid families are necessary to help us ensure we do not exceed planet capacity-- the population that the earth can support. Today, it seems couples are deciding it's more right for them given the state of the economy. Whatever the motive, it seems high time to dispel the long held myths that seemed to start in "peculiar and exceptional" ways~
Families of Two
More from parenting