By Nick Mcdermott 15th November 2010 The Daily Mail
They are often viewed as being awkward, lonely and demanding, but a new study has revealed that only children are happier than those forced to fight for their parents’ attention with their siblings. One of the reasons single-children appear more confident and content is they do not have to deal with ‘sibling bullying’, according to researchers, with almost a third of youngsters saying they are regularly hit or shoved by a brother or sister. Many children with siblings also complain of their belongings being stolen and being called ‘nasty names’ by a brother or sister.
Me me me time: Competition for parental attention and irritation over the need to share belongings could be to blame for greater unhappiness amongst those with a brother or sister, new research claims. The figures, which come from one of the widest-ranging studies on family life conducted in Britain, Understanding Society, tracked the lives of 100,000 people in 40,000 homes. Previous research has indicated that being an only-child could hamper social skills, while those enjoying sole parental attention are often considered more selfish than other youngsters,
A Ohio State University study in 2004 showed single children found it hard to make friends on joining kindergarten compared with those who had at least one sibling. But Gundi Knies from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at the University of Essex, who analysed the Understanding Society data, said the findings indicate the fewer siblings children have, the happier they are. The study also that children from ethnic minorities are happier than their white British counterparts.
And for parents with teenagers, it seems that on the whole they are a contented bunch, with seven out of 10 saying they are ‘very satisfied’ with their lives. The results will be published later this week in State of the Nation, a magazine published by the Economic and Social Research Council. Miss Knies says competition for parental attention and irritation over the need to share belongings such as toys and sweets with siblings, could be to blame for greater unhappiness amongst those with a brother or sister. Sibling bullying is also a regular occurrence in many homes, with 30 per cent of teenagers claiming they suffer verbal abuse from their brother or sister, while almost one in five say they have personal items taken from them.
Singled out: The survey’s new findings indicate the fewer siblings children have, the happier they are. Professor Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick, who has carried out research into sibling rivalries and bullying, said: ‘More than half of all siblings (54%) were involved in bullying in one form or the other.’ But he also found brother and sisters not only fight with each other, but offer support as well, something unavailable to a single child. The researcher claimed tensions between siblings were likely to have an impact on parents, saying: ‘From anecdotal reports, quarrelling siblings increase stress for parents and some just give up intervening or intervene inconsistently, leaving the field wide open for the bully sibling.’
Michele Elliott, director of Kidscape, which tackles bullying, said some children simply do not get along with their siblings, which can lead to conflict. She said: ‘You cannot choose your brother or sister, and in some instances the children simply do not get along, which can lead one or both of them very unhappy. ‘There are a lot of myths around regarding single children, but in our experience, they are rarely lonely, it is more that others perceive they must be lonely. ‘It seems from anecdotal evidence, siblings play a more vital role when we are older and no longer have our parents to rely on. Then they can offer support.’
Actress Natalie Portman credits a childhood without brothers or sisters for helping her career. She said: ‘I would never have been an actress if I weren’t an only child, because my parents would never have let me be the star of the family at the expense of another child.’ But fellow screen-star Lauren Bacall was not keen on her upbringing, saying: ‘I don’t think being the only child of a single parent helped. I was always a little unsteady in my self-belief.’
Last year, it emerged that Britain is becoming a nation of one-child families. Households with a single child now outnumber those with two by more than half a million, making up 46 per cent of all families.