Are only children happier? Bernice responds to recent articles that say they are.

by on October 5, 2011

in Articles,Bernice responds

Happy child?

Households with a single child now outnumber those with two (by more than half a million) and make up 46 per cent of all families. An article in the The Daily Mail stated that recent research concluded only children were happier than sibling children: Why an only child is happier than those who have brothers and sisters. Similarly the Observer article:  An only child is a happy child  claimed, from the same research: that because children with siblings encounter sibling rivalry and reduced parental attention, and worse still sibling bullying, an only child must be happier simply because they do not have a sibling. More recently “The Week” also published a similar article: Are Only Children Happier?

Is this true?

First of all, the research as far as I have read, is based on a large scale survey conducted in Britain by the Economic and Social Research Council. It does not actually state that only children are happier than children with siblings. What it does say is:

“The research also finds that having older siblings is not related to children’s happiness with their family, but having younger siblings in the household is associated with lower levels of satisfaction, and this effect is greater the more younger siblings there are in the household. But relationships with parents are even more important than relationships with siblings. Only 28 per cent of children who quarrel more than once a week with their parents, and don’t discuss important matters with their parents are completely happy with their families.”

I think to jump from this survey to say that ‘the fewer siblings children have, the happier they are, and therefore those with no siblings are even happier is ridiculous!

However clearly there are pros and cons in being an only child as Shil1978 states:

‘Being an only child can be either good or bad, depending on how you perceive it and how you are brought up by your parents.’

Siblings can be problematic but they also offer a great deal of social and emotional opportunities to learn if parents’ are able to role model this themselves – see: So how do siblings affect the family dynamic?

The following pros and cons are  taken from numerous blogs and emails I have read. The first group are from people brought up with siblings:-

The advantages are often seen in this way:

  • You get all your parents attention
  • You do not suffer from sibling rivalry
  • You are the favourite so you don’t feel you are less loved/important etc.
  • You do not receive sibling bullying
  • You have access to all the family resources
  • You are in a safe, enclosed, privileged position

The disadvantages:

  • You are probably over indulged
  • You seek constant attention
  • You are selfish- and put your needs first
  • You expect your needs to be instantly gratified
  • You fear independence and leaving home
  • You cant empathise with others

The interesting point is that the advantages are what most sibling people are envious of in only children and the disadvantages are mostly what the social stereotype contains.

A similar list from my research and emails sent to me from only children is somewhat different but, as Shil1978 says, very much based on you parent’s influence and your own perception.

The advantages

  • You receive all the parental resources
  • You get all your parents good attention and ambition
  • Everything is focused on you and your needs
  • You learn adult social skills early
  • You are motivated to succeed
  • You are encouraged in all your desires and interests

The disadvantages

  • You get all your parents bad attention, anxiety and over focus
  • You feel responsible for your parents happiness which can translate into both the need to achieve and perfectionism
  • You don’t learn to share, and may be perceived as spoilt
  • You find children, childish; but as a ‘little adult’ you are neither child nor adult; and consequently may miss out on childhood experiences
  • You feel you can only succeed in the direction you parents approve
  • You are soley responsible for your parents in old age
  • You have no one to share your history with as you get older

I would be happy to hear from any one else who would like to add to these or give their own opinion.

  • Garydawnharrill

    i am an only child and you do get atteion but get lonly alot

  • Laura

    I’m an only child, and I love my life.  And I have never been lonely.

  • KAT

    I worry about my daughter being an only child but she seems well adjusted and we always make of point of her having friends to play and stay over!

  • Anonymous

    I am proud to be an only child, and frankly this business about onlies being spoiled is total B.S.
    Just because you don’t have siblings doesn’t mean sharing isn’t learned. We share with friends, family members, and learn empathy a lot sooner than other kids. We grow up in an adult’s world, and adults don’t have their every whim satisfied, neither do we. We tend to be far more mature, responsible, and thoughtful at an earlier age. I was baffled by some of my classmates who still threw temper tantrums or just resorted to violence when they didn’t get their way.

  • Gary Stark

    Those people who imagine we are less inclined to socialise, seem to think we are brought up on some kind of desert island. have they never heard of schools or kindergardens or cousins, in my case an entire extended family of them?

    The only children I still know never were attention seeking-we didn’t have to seek attention, it was a natural given. What we did learn is how to deal with our own company-not lonely but alone. My mother who was 1 of 7 never understood this difference, but I wouldn’t have been without it.

    Finally, I was bullied at school and even by younger cousins and I’m certain if it had continued at home, i wouldn’t be the well adjusted freak I grew up to be

  • Anonymous

    I am an only , now aged 48 .
    I hated it . I lived in a block of flats . there were a few other kids there , but gradually they had younger siblings and were moved into houses .
    I found “banter” very hard to seal with when I first started work , and have only really begun to “join in ” in the last 15 years or so .
    On the plus side , I am happy with my own company , and don’t feel that I “need” anyone .
    My mum wanted more ,but I was the only one . I was her only hope , but never really lived up to her expectations .
    She did get pregnant ,about a year after I came along . Sadly , it was a mis carriage , and she would never talk about  it .
    I really wish I had brothers and sisters

    • Gary Stark

      Hi-being an only child can be tougher, but concentrate on the biggest plus which, in my view outweighs the other.

      As you’ve said you’re happy with your own company. I wouldn’t have gone without that for any of the so called
      advantages of having siblings. I do wonder what it would have been like, but I think it’s “grass is greener” syndrome.

  • Victorialdg

    I am an only child too.  Now I am 32 and have a family of my own. Guess…  I have an only child.  I was happy growing up and my daughter says she’s happy with the way things are.. haven’t you heard of middle child syndrome. There will be issues in parenting as always ,no matter how many children you have.

  • 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
    Thank God we did have dogs, who were my only friends at home.
    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
    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.
    I entirely agree with the above disadvantages to being an “only child” as seen by only children. However not many of the above advantages apply to me. I didn’t learn adult social skills early, I wasn’t motivated to succeed, and I certainly wasn’t encouraged in all my desires and interests. In fact, quite the reverse.

  • c

    You would think being a only child you would get used to being lonely but you never do and if u have a problem that u dnt want to tell your friends or your parents I would love a sibling to talk to or tell because there would be more trust with a sibling than with friends they are my two biggest problems and I’m a very giving person who likes to share because iv never had anyone always there in my life to share something with.

  • CM

    I’m an only child and I was not spoiled. My parents divorced when I was young. And I took a lot of responsibility and was “mature” from a young age. When I was a young teen I wished I had a younger sibling. What I hate about being an only is not being alone but having an abnormal family and having no other family to care about me. That’s all. I’m glad I was an only because I wouldn’t wish for anyone to have the troubles I’ve had. I’ve always enjoyed the company of adults to that of my peers. I may be alone, but I’m a well adjusted adult, responsible and wise, I don’t need annoying people or the “drama” of relationships to feel complete.

    The only time I see an only child complain about being the only one is when there is no other family members to keep in touch with, or other people who have siblings saying they feel sorry for onlys. I’ve had a few people have a pitiful tone in regards to that subject. Dont feel sorry for me, I don’t care. And when it comes to how many kids one should have. It’s no ones business to push the “oh you’ll have another kid, just you see.” Having more than one child is that women’s choice for her body, her sanity, her fertility, whether or not she’s had a miscarriage, or whether the couple is financially and emotionally equipped to have more than one. It’s not being an only child, it’s the circumstances, whether you have stable parents, healthy situations and lots of love, just because someone has a sibling does not mean they have a better life, abuse can come to anyone. To sum it up, life’s not perfect, and not all advice is good for everybody in the same light.

  • Susanna

    Having siblings is no guarantee of having someone nice taht loves you and “shares burdens”. They mostly add to the already existing burdens. I have 3 siblings and I was very lonely growing up. They bullied me and competed with me and were basically a nightmare. They are not bad people at all. Most of my friends experienced the same problems I had. Most of my friends say they were relieved to leave their parents house and most of them rarely see their siblings except for holidays and if they meet at the parents home. About being solely responsible for taking care of elderly parents… only children are lucky because they can make all the decisions without quarreling with all other siblings about money and who is going to do this or the other. I wish I had been an only child. I loved my family when growing up, but is was way too hard. Being alone with my parents would have been heaven.

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