Science says there’s nothing wrong with being an only child

Stop saying I’m spoiled and lonely


According to recent research, only children have higher IQs. It’s a nice change to get some good PR – a friend once told me that he thought the used to think the term was actually “lonely child”, as he felt so sorry for people like me.

At least he was sympathetic. Usually, pseudoscience labels only children as selfish, lonely, introverted and bad at adjusting. It’s frustrating to be told only children are bad at sharing their possessions – especially food – when you’ve already offered out everything you have in the first place. On discovering you are not these things, people will say “you don’t seem like an only child” – yet, mystifyingly, the cliches persist. Perhaps the worst one is that only children are spoiled: of course some are, but so are some people with siblings.

Is having siblings that great? Really?

Is having siblings that great? Really?

Whenever you drop the bomb (“nope, just me and my parents”), people give you a suspicious look, like they’re waiting for you to do something out of the ordinary: like run off cackling to yourself or whisper ridiculous conspiracy theories. It’s patronising, and what’s worse is that you’re not allowed to grow up: no matter how old you get, you will always be an only child despite going way, way past the age of a child in the traditional sense. Elvis, Daniel Radcliffe, John Lennon, Maria Sharapova and Mahatma Gandhi all had no siblings, but we don’t see them as children. So is Lance Armstrong but we’ll leave that one out. They mostly turned out alright.

This is what life with siblings is like

This is what life with siblings is like

Many of the stereotypes come from outdated research. Believe it or not, one of the first pieces of studies to focus on the effects of having no brothers or sisters claimed being an only child was “a disease in itself”. Just over 100 years ago the psychologist G. Stanley Hall came up with most of the characterisations we now deal with about being spoiled, self-indulgent and a little bit weird. Psychoanalysis was a big deal at the time, so his theories really took off without too much opposition. Thankfully scientists in recent years have been more forgiving. There’s a book from 2013 by Lauren Sandler called “One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child and the Joy of Being One”, which admittedly does sound a bit biased. In short, it’s really fine to have no brothers or sisters. And parents who only have one kid can actually be happier in a lot of cases.

Indeed, there are definitive studies which tell us, once and for all, that only children are just as adjusted as anyone with brothers and sisters.  On the other hand there is research to suggest it’s actually healthier to have siblings, backing up the stereotype.  Speaking on the big divide, the psychologist Avidan Milevsky said:

“I am usually asked this question by singletons, as they are known in the field, during the Q and A time after my lectures. I typically reply with a socially mindful comment about the many influential people, from Leonardo da Vinci to Elvis Presley, who were only-children. I have personally observed that often researchers who themselves are only-children are the ones forwarding the findings in favour of only-children and those with siblings propose that singletons are disadvantaged; so much for objective science.”

Sounds like we’re just the same.