Are only children happier?

by on July 6, 2011

in Articles

Published in ‘The Week’

 Is one the loneliest number? A new study says kids without siblings may be better off — thanks to an absence of bullying at home
A new study finds that quarreling siblings increase stress for the children as well as the parents.

A new study finds that quarreling siblings increase stress for the children as well as the parents.

Conventional wisdom holds that children without brothers and sisters are maladjusted and lonely compared to those with siblings. Not so, says a new British study from the University of Essex, which suggests that only children may have a better chance of happiness. Here’s a concise guide:

What did the study find?
Only children are happier than those with siblings, which may reflect the fact that they endure less bullying — something more than half of kids with siblings in the study reported. “Quarreling siblings increase stress for parents and some [parents] just give up intervening or intervene inconsistently, leaving the field wide open for the bully sibling,” says one researcher.

How was the study conducted?
The study questioned 2,500 young people as part of a larger initiative called Understanding Society that is tracking 100,000 people in 40,000 homes in the United Kingdom, where 46 percent of families are only-child families.

How do these findings compare with other recent studies?
It contradicts them. A 2004 Ohio University Study found that only children had a harder time making friends when they start kindergarten compared to kids with siblings. Other recent studies have found that those with sisters, both children and adults, tend to be happier and more optimistic.

Who are some notable only children?
Chelsea Clinton, Robin Williams, Tiger Woods, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alicia Keys, and Natalie Portman are all only children. Portman says being sibling-free made her who she is: “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.”

 Read Bernice’s response to this article in Bernice Responds.

  • Frances Drake

    I have no siblings (I think the expression “only child” is horrible”) and I can say that the key word all through my miserable childhood was LONELINESS.
    Thank God we did have dogs, who were my only friends at home.
    When I first went to school I was terrified of the other kids. Later on I was bullied for having no siblings and taunted as being a “spoilt, only child”. In desperation I invented a number of brothers when I went to a different school, but of course this only made things worse. Now I’m almost 60 and have only recently been able to confess to having no siblings.
    Also it isn’t a foregone conclusion that siblings will automatically bully each other. They’re just as likely to comfort each other if one is hurt, and to have loving relationships with one another. Of course there will probably be some squabbles, but in my view this may well help children to cope with school, and with the adult world later on. Children without siblings miss out on this.
    And if you have siblings, there is always someone to share the burdens with which parents all too frequently encumber their children.

  • Bij nader inzien

    What a strange generalizations! Each person is different and hence to say that “only children are happier” is nonsense. For us the situation was without choice as we had twins. But I think if we would have had more children that would never have been a problem.

    I base this on the fact that we did raise foster children in our family, psychologically damaged children who needed a lot of extra care and consideration. But that also showed the other side of the coin, we raised in total two sets of foster children and in both cases one child would have been much better off if she had been an only child. In the second case this was even proven as the youngest did go back to her natural parents for about half a year causing the elderly one that had enormous psychical problems to calm down substantially and make enormous progress. When the natural parents created new crises we of course agreed to take the younger one back but we knew that it would severely disrupt the progress that the older child was making.

    By the way, my wife and I both grew up as the older ones in a two child family and both of us experienced that as a burden, not a pleasure by any means. However my mother in law grew up as an only child and she experienced that to be very lonely and as an added burden in relation to her mother who leaned heavily upon her.

    So please, no generalizations, they just don’t work. We are all individuals with our own characters. And of course if having siblings is a pleasure or a burden depends to a great extend on the question to what extend the characters of siblings match or not and if parents are sufficiently able to spread their love and atttention equally between them.

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