Consider the unmitigated good news about only children:

Here’s the big one: In 500 studies over the past several decades, examining sixteen traits, including leadership, maturity, extraversion, social participation, peer popularity, generosity, cooperativeness, flexibility, emotional stability, contentment, only children do just as well as siblings. In only two categories is there a marked difference between singletons and sibs: achievement motivation and self-esteem.  And in those traits, onlies fare far better.           

In tests measuring 32 different kinds of intelligence, onlies scored higher in 25 tests, and equal in four.

In a meta-analysis of 115 studies comparing only children with siblings, examining surveys that were both self-reported and measuring the perceptions of others, onlies score no higher on loneliness than anyone else.

Researchers have found that only children are actually more cooperative than siblings.

In studies of narcissism, only children do not score higher than kids with siblings.

When 13,000 kids were asked to name their close friends, onlies named just as many as siblings.

Only children receive at least 50 percent more active care time than kids in two-child families.

According to significant research, onlies are generally more autonomous, have higher levels of aspiration and motivation, and have stronger identities, as seen in the quantitative data on self-esteem or adjustment levels.


Consider parental happiness:

In a survey of 35,000 Danish twins, women with one child said they were more satisfied with their lives than women with none or more than one.

Researchers say there’s nothing but support for singletons as the way to balance the profound pleasures of parenting with some semblance of a liberated adulthood.

The lower the overall fertility of the society, the happier are those who have children.


Consider the increasing juggle:

Each child adds no less than 120 hours of housework a year.

Women devote about 13 hours a week to childcare, up from about 10.5 half hours nearly a half century ago—when they didn’t work outside the home.  Meanwhile, the American workweek has increased by 13 hours.

Women still do twice as much housework as men, and provide more than two thirds of care for kids under twelve.

Women combine childcare with their limited leisure time twice as much as they did in 1975.

A single child decreases a mother’s employment by about 8 hours a week—the second kid leads to a further reduction of about 12 hours (to a total of 20).

The second baby is usually when a mother decides to opt out of the marketplace.

60 percent of men say they are struggling with the demands of work and family.


Consider the financial reality:

A child born in 2011 will cost an average of $235,000 to raise to age 18.  That includes kids born under the poverty rate.

When a family that spends $11,000 on one child (and that’s way, way below the national average), spends $18,000 on two. Consider that an only child in this equation receives the advantage of that full $11,000.

Two-parent households with two children devote over a third of their income to their kids.

College diplomas awarded in 2010 came with an average of $24,000 in debt.


Consider the environment:

Our global numbers are expected to increase by over 2 billion to over 9 billion by 2050.

Each American child currently in preschool will be responsible for 3.1 million pounds of CO2, 23 million pounds of water waste, and over seven thousand pounds of food waste.

Each baby born in the U.S. today will add about 300 times more carbon dioxide to the earth’s atmosphere than every baby born in Ethiopia.


And yet:

76 percent of Americans tell Gallup pollsters they thought that being an only-child was a serious disadvantage in life, responsible for everything from gutting loneliness to major character defects.

17 percent of American women in the 1970s said they’d stop at one kid; 3 percent of Americans today say they think a single child family is ideal.



Here are some books that I’ve found useful in developing my thinking about what it means to be an only child, and what it means to have one. 

The Future of Your Only Child, Carl Pickhardt. Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

The Single-child Family, Toni Falbo, editor.  The Guildford Press, 1984.

The Price of Motherhood: Why the Most Important Job in the World Is Still the Least Valued, Ann Crittenden.  Picador, 2010.

Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics and Creative Lives, Frank Sulloway.  Vintage, 1997.

Family Size and Achievement, Judith Blake. University of California Press, 1992.

Only Child: Writers on the Singular Joy and Solitary Sorrows of Growing Up Solo, Deborah Siegel and Daphen Uviller, editors.  Three Rivers Press, 2008.

Valuing Children: Rethinking the Economics of the Family, Nancy Folbre.  Harvard University Press, 2010.

The New Population Problem: Why Why Families in Developed Countries Are Shrinking and What It Means, Alan Booth, Ann C. Crouter, editors. Taylor & Francis, 2005.

Of the hundreds of of articles I’ve consulted, these are some of the most relevant and informative.  Not all of these are available online, I’m afraid, but most libraries should be able to help you find those that aren’t.

Challenging the Stereotypes About Only Children: A Review of the Literature and Implications for Practice, Adriean Mancillas. Journal of Counseling and Development, Summer 2006.

The Joys of Parenthood, Reconsidered
, Robin W. Simon. Contexts, Spring 2008.

Quantitative Review of the Only Child Literature: Research Evidence and Theory Development, Toni Falbo and Denise F. Polit.  Psychological Bulletin, 1986.

How Do Only Children Differ from Other Children?, Steven Mellor.  The Journal of Genetic Psychology, 1990.

“I Always Knew Mom and Dad Loved Me Best”: Experiences of Only Children, Lisen C. Roberts and Priscilla White Blanton. The Journal of Individual Psychology, Summer 2001.

Only children in Britain: popular stereotype and research evidence, Ann Laybourn.  Children & Society, 1990.

The Only Child in America: Prejudice versus Performance, Judith Blake. Population and Development Review, 1981.

The Only Child Grows Up: A Look at Some Characteristics of Only Children, Denise F. Polit, Ronald L. Nuttall an Ena V. Nuttall.  Family Relations, 1980.

A Global Perspective on Happiness and Fertility, Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä. Population and Development Review, 2011.

Is Low Fertility a Twentieth Century Demographic Crisis?, S. Phillip Morgan.  Demography, 2003.

Family policies and fertility in Europe, Gerda Neyer.  Max Planck working paper, 2006.