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Only Child Essay, Research Paper
It seems as though our society has placed a negative association with being
an only child. Many people consider these children to be at some sort of disadvantage.
Research on this subject is mixed on this type of family situation. Therefore, I will cover
a range of areas concerning only children. I have learned a new term associated with being
an only child. The term is “onlies”, referring to the child as being the only child in the
family. First, I will look at how trends and ideas about family size have changed.
Second, I will discuss why more parents are choosing to have only one child and
what they can gain from making this decision. Third I will look at the myths that
surround being an only child. Then I will focus on the differences of only children
and children who have siblings, and then I will close. With this in mind let’s turn
our attention toward the changing size of the family unit.
Although there were exceptions, in most cases if a couple had an only child,
something had intervened to prevent them from adding to their family. Was there
something wrong with the child, something wrong in the marriage, or something wrong
with the mother or father. In the past there were many reasons why people felt the need
to have more than one child. Some of this reasons were: isolation, fear of the spread of
disease, the polio scare. Today children are immunized against most childhood diseases
and antibiotics are available for less serious illnesses. High mortality rates were also a
factor in previous decades. Today we are not faced with the threat that took many young
lives, such as smallpox and influenza. Not to long ago people had children for economic
gain. They used the extra bodies to harvest the crops and milk the cows. Today there is
no economic advantage to having a larger family.
More parents are choosing to have only one child due to changing family patterns
and economic concerns. New roles for women have also contributed to parents
choosing the option of having only one child. In respect to the changing family pattern,
divorce rates are at the 50 percent range, higher than ever before, and the tendency
for couples to marry later in life have also contributed to shorter marriages and the
potential for fewer children. In the realm of economic concerns, the fear of unemployment,
inflation, and reduced family income are playing a role in the trend toward parents
choosing to have smaller families. The majority of women are now employed before
they have children. The benefits of this added income and involvement in careers
may lead women to delay having children, therefore they will usually have a smaller
family. Parents can gain many advantages from choosing to have only one child.
There is reduced conflict in dividing time and attention among children, greater
financial flexibility, and an even more closely knit family unit. With this understanding
of why families are choosing to have only one child, let’s direct our attention toward
some myths that surround being an only child.
A family that had only one child was once long thought to produce special problems
for the family and child. The “onlies” were viewed as selfish, egotistical, dependent,
lonely, and unsociable. All this was assumed because they lacked the influence of
siblings and got too much parental attention. These stereotypes and others have formed
many of our nations notions about only children. Enlightened information, as we will see
exists, but it has been slow to penetrate our society. As I said earlier, I am constantly
amazed by how most people seem to think that there is something wrong with having
only one child. Dr. Toni Falbo (1986, p.53) one of the country’s leading authorities on
only children, suggests one reason why stereotypes linger is because human beings don’t
like to think too deeply. When we think about other people, there’s too much
information, too much variation. In order to cut down on the mental work, we tend to
categorize and ignore pieces of information. We assume we know more than we actually
do. We say, Oh, only children are like that. Let’s look at some myths that have
contributed to such stereotyping.
It is a misfortune that there are so many myths that surround the only child. The
opinions of many past experts do not stand up to today’s investigations. Let’s look at
some of these myths. MYTH 1: Only children are shy. FACT: J. Kagan (1988, p.167-
171) conducted research of young children who were either extremely inhibited or
uninhibited. Conclusion was that there is a biological base, a predisposition for
childhood shyness. Some of the factors that contribute to shyness in both children and
adults are inherited. Only children were found to be the same in this respect as their
peers who had siblings. MYTH 2: All only children have imaginary companions to
compensate for their loneliness. FACT: Sharryl Hawke and David Knox (1977, p.110)
argue that roughly one third of all children have imaginary friends at some point. They
conclude that unless the child is excluding other children in favor of imaginary
companions, there is no reason to regard the imaginary playmates as unhealthy. MYTH
3: Only children are spoiled. FACT: Psychologists and sociologists state that being
spoiled is a reflection of our society. Expecting that things are coming to you, that you’re
entitled to a lot, is a syndrome of well-to-do middle and upper class children. They are
given the latest toys and computers and get chauffeured from place to place. This applies
to all children, not just only children. MYTH 4: Only children have more emotional
problems, are maladjusted, anxious, and unhappy. FACT: Five studies conducted
between 1927 and 1967 show that only children are actually underrepresented among
psychiatric clients. Dr. Falbo (1983, p.264) states there are no differences in emotional
health among only and non-only children.
There is little to justify all the accusations that only children are mentally
unbalanced, spoiled, lonely, or shy. The reality is that an only child could develop
any of the often attributed stereotypical personality traits, but so could an oldest,
youngest, or middle child. All these social stereotypes exist without any grounding
in reality. Unfortunately, simply because they exist, some people continue to believe
them. By all current accounts, it seems as though past attitudes and current stereotyping
is erroneous. With the reality clear let us now focus on differences of only children
and children who have siblings.
The results of investigations represent some differences between only children
and children who have siblings. The results I will focus on are in the areas of intelligence,
achievement, affiliation, popularity, and self-esteem. Although report findings conflict,
only children, like first-borns, generally have been found to score slightly higher on
measures of intelligence than younger siblings. The results of the testing may be
explained by factors within the family. Such factors for example may be the parents’
providing an enriched intellectual environment. As in intelligence, achievement (both
academic and other kinds) in only and first-born children appears to be slightly greater
than for later-born children. In an attempt to explain, theorists have considered the
relationship between parents and children. Presumably, achievement motivation
originates in the high standards for mature behavior that parents impose on their only and
Though this research represents many findings, it seems to favor the view that
being an only child does not have the detrimental effects that some people assume. The
most current data appear to indicate that only children have a slight edge over children
with siblings on measures of intelligence and achievement and they suffer no serious
interpersonal deficits. With all this information in mind, I will recap the topics in this
paper and make a few comments to end this paper.
In this paper, the following areas were touched on. First, trends and ideas
about why family size is changing were discussed. Second, we noted why more
parents are choosing to have only one child and the gains from this decision.
Third, a few myths were compared with facts on stereotypical views of only children.
Then I closed focusing on the differences of only children and children who have
siblings. In closing, it seems that only children may have some advantages as a result
of their special status. They seem to receive more attention from parents, freedom from
sibling rivalry and comparison, and access to more family resources. They have
the advantage of being the oldest and the youngest child in the family. Research has
indicated that there are no significant differences between adult only children and
adults with siblings in social behaviors from simple interaction skills to civic
involvement. For this reason, the stereotype of the only child may lose credibility.
With all this stated, the truth is, there’s no ideal family, just what’s right for you.
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