Bernice responds to Louise Watt – Beijing correspondent

by on September 25, 2013

in Bernice responds

 Louise Watt (correspondent in Beijing) wrote to me in a personal correspondence about this research and asked me for my response:

Recently Australian researchers have explored the psychological impact of China’s one-child policy and part of that is the impact of being an only child. This was published by Science magazine in January 2013.

Loiuse’s email:

“They found that people born as a result of China’s one-child policy are less trusting, less competitive and more risk-averse than people born before the policy was implemented.

The researchers recruited approx. 400 Beijing residents who had been born either before (in 1975 or 1978) or after (in 1980 or 1983) the implementation of the policy. They used a series of economic games, in which participants had to make economic decisions to measure their trust, risk-taking and willingness to compete.

They also used personality surveys to determine that only children (as a result of the policy) tended to be less optimistic, more sensitive or nervous, and less conscientious.

They found that the one-child policy best explained the results (ie rather than other possible factors like age and marital status or whether they might have become more capitalistic over time). The results may not be valid for only children born in other places or other times.

Do these conclusions make sense to you? Are they surprising or did everybody know this already?” Louise Watt

  Bernice  replies:

I confirm that these results pretty much consistent with my own qualitative research –  that only-children can be ”more sensitive and nervous” aspects due to over protection by parents or a parent and the difficulties only-children have in separating psychologically from their family. This, coupled with the lack of competition and social and emotional learning that siblings provide can offer an alternative view of the world. This means that only-children are very likely to be different from children with siblings and this may challenge traditional cultural understandings, not only in China but elsewhere that is primarily based on a sibling oriented view of the world. This could in the long term be a positive outcome in a changing world.

Where I would differ from these findings is the “less conscientious” aspect of only-child personality, as in my own research I found them to be overly responsible and likely to be perfection-istic and very task focused. With regard to the ” less trusting” quality, again my research suggests that Only Children appear to be naively trusting expecting people to be both fair and predictable and have their interests at heart (like their parents). Bernice



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