Why you're wrong—and right—about having an only child

When it comes to only children, stereotypes and preconceived notions abound. Some are rubbish, but others are rooted in truth.

An only child is just as happy as everyone else. In fact, as kids, they are probably happier. But throughout life, they have just as many close friends. They even enjoy more career success. As they grow older, they do not feel more burdened by aging parents.

The personalities of only children are similar to first born.

However, they have higher levels of ambition, independence, character, and intelligence. They are also better adjusted. Contrary to popular belief, they are no more narcissistic or selfish.

Today, the number of only children is increasing. In the US, the rate is between 20% and 30% of families.

The myth of only child syndrome

Siblings do not seem to improve personality traits. There is simply no research to support the idea of “only child syndrome.”

Only children are similar to everyone else in these ways:

  • narcissism

  • selfish behavior

  • self-esteem

  • social skills

  • neuroticism

  • depression

  • life satisfaction

In many ways, onlies act just like anyone else. But they seem to be especially similar in personality to first borns.

Do only children feel lonely?

Only children enjoy the same number of close friendships. This has been found throughout childhood and adulthood. Likewise, studies find they have the same level of social skills and ability to cooperate, and are no less extroverted.

However, those without siblings may be slightly less popular in early childhood. Never-the-less, they enjoyed the same number of friends and the same level of friendship quality as other kids.

In a large study of 13,500 kids at 10 high schools, teens were asked to name 10 friends. Only children were just as popular as other teens. Most kids spend eight hours a day at school and enjoy extracurricular activities and friendships. This may have a normalizing effect. As it turns out, the personality traits of only children, like independence and character, may benefit them as teenagers in social environments. In one study, 39% of teenage onlies reported an episode of alcohol intoxication, versus 69% of first borns. In another study, teens with siblings reported being bullied 50% more often at school than onlies.

The one child family

Not surprisingly, only children report a more positive relationship with parents. This is true in childhood as well as in adulthood. They even have better relationships with their parents than first borns. These kids also receive individual attention from parents as an infant.

However this does not necessarily translate to more time spent with parents as an adult. Actually, they spend 20% less time with relatives than those with siblings. Naturally, they aren’t spending time with brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. This amounts to less time spent with family, overall.

Is life better for an only child?

These children benefit from higher levels of success in adulthood. They even report being happier during childhood. Their personalities differ slightly from other people but in mostly positive ways.

They share a similar number of close friends as others. Likewise, they spend a similar amount of time socializing. They are no more likely to be depressed. However, they are more likely to be overweight.

Overall, the life of the only child seems rewarding and enjoyable. This is fortunate, because they are becoming more common across the world.