As someone who grew up with three siblings, I often look at only children with, to be honest, a bit of wonder but also pity. What did they do without siblings? Who did they play with? Who drank the other half of their soda because they weren’t allowed to have a whole one (Okay, maybe that was just my family’s rule)? Looking at the research, however, perhaps being or having an only child isn’t as bad as I thought.
Is Having an Only Child So Bad?
There are a lot of negative stereotypes about having just one child. Many people look at parents of only children and wonder how they possibly teach them how to share or that the whole world doesn’t revolve around them and their needs.
Traditionally, only children are slapped with many labels, including:
- Socially awkward
- More likely to be poorly behaved
I could go on, but you get the point. To top it off, parents (especially mothers) are often judged or made to feel bad about only having one child. “How can you have just one? You can’t do that to your child!”
Despite this, having an only child is on the rise in the United States. In 1976, this accounted for just 11% of families. By 2015 one-child families accounted for 22%. (1)
Why Are More People Having An Only Child?
There are several contributing factors associated with more families choosing to remain a three-member household.
The first major contributing factor to parents deciding to have just one child is cost. In North America, it costs an average of more than $250,000 to raise a child. These statistics account for only about the first 17 to 18 years of that child’s life before they go to college. (2, 3)
In reality, this cost is much higher, especially when you consider the number of adult children who in today’s economic climate continues to live at home well into their 20s and even 30s.
2. Older Parents
The second big one is that parents are having children later in life. They, in particular mothers, are more focused on their careers and establishing themselves before they decide to establish a family. By the time they have their first one, they may simply decide not to have more. (1)
3. Female Opportunity and Career Goals
When a woman decides to have a child, she will inevitably have to take time off from work. This can cause a financial strain as well as put on pause or even set back the new mom’s career trajectory. In some cases, even after she returns, she can face discrimination and been seen as less reliable due to new family obligations. (1)
4. Environmental Concerns
As climate change continues to happen at alarming rates, many people are becoming more aware of the environmental impact of each individual. One child per family puts a lot less stress on the planet than two, three, or four. (1)
The Benefits Of Having An Only Child
Still, multi-children homes are the majority. Many parents worry that in having an only child they will doom their child to eternal loneliness and accidentally raise a self-centered, uncompromising, and self-righteous adult.
To clear up some of the concerns, here are some of the benefits of having an only child.
1. More Time To Yourself
No one wants to admit it, but we were all thinking about it. In many ways, parenting an only child is easier merely since there is only one. One kid to feed, bathe, potty train, take to school, activities, playdates, etc. That means more time for you because you’re not rushing around between multiple children’s schedules.
Having only one child means you have a bit more time to pursue your own hobbies and activities.
2. Your Child Learns to Play By Themselves
Learning how to be alone is something that many people, myself included, struggle with. Growing up in a larger family, I was rarely alone, so I often had to entertain myself. Single child families means that child will inevitably spend more time playing solo. This forces them to be more creative.
In 2016, researchers published a study that looked at the differences in intelligence and creativity, personality, and brain gray matter volume between only children and those with siblings. (4)
The study found that there were few differences between the two despite all of the negative stereotypes of only children. However, only children did have a higher overall flexibility score, which is one of the markers of creativity. (4)
3. No Sibling Fights
If ever a parent tells you that their kids “never fight”, they are lying through their teeth. Siblings fight, whether or not their parents hear or see it. If you have one child, you do not need to worry about breaking up sibling fights and getting to the bottom of who-did-what.
Kids who don’t have siblings can still learn to problem-solve, too. Unlike hundreds of years ago when families lived primarily on farms far away from neighbors, kids today live in cities and suburbs in much closer proximity to other kids.
They can play with the neighborhood children more easily, and they are usually in more activities like sports and clubs with other kids. Once they go to daycare or school, they are surrounded by children all day long. There are plenty of opportunities for them to learn sharing and conflict resolution.
4. More Financial Resources
Having only one child means that there is more available to them. Of course, you only have to spend money on one child’s wardrobe, food, and birthdays. Outside of material objects, however, is that having an single child frees you up to do more together as a family.
Travel and vacations are more affordable; trips to the waterpark and other family outings are simpler and cheaper. You can put your child in piano, swimming, and dance classes rather than just one activity per child.
If your child decides to go to college, you are more likely able to financially support them.
5. More Time and Energy
Money isn’t the only resource you give your son or daughter. An only child means you, as the parent, have more time, attention, and energy to put into that individual. The more children you have, the more that gets divided up.
6. No Picking Favorites
Child-parent relationship dynamics are complex. When you have multiple kids, you may love them equally, but you might not actually like them equally. Some people just “click” together better than others, and this includes parents and their children.
If you only have one child, you don’t have to worry about accidentally having a favorite because you only have one. You can shower them with as much love and affection as your heart desires without fear that anyone feels left out.
Should You Be Having An Only Child?
The answer is: If you want to, yes! If you want more than one child, then no. That’s the great thing: You get to decide what’s best for you and your family. Whether you choose to have one or many, those children will all be loved, supported, and lead a happy life.
- “The rise of the only child: How America is coming around to the idea of ‘just one’.” Washington Post. Caitlin Gibson. June 19, 2019.
- ” Why Only Child Families Are On The Rise.” Huffington Post. Maija Kappler. August 28, 2019.
- “The Only Child: Debunking the Myths.” Time. Lauren Sandler. July 8, 2010
- “Only-child and non-only-child exhibit differences in creativity and agreeableness: evidence from behavioral and anatomical structural studies.” Springer. Junyi Yang, et al. March 8, 2016.