An Only Child: For Better or For Worse?

by Thilaka Ravi on  June 14, 2008 at 5:07 PM Medindia Exclusive - Interviews and In depth Reports
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Heard of an old joke about the Garden of Eden? Eve looks at Adam and asks, "Do you love me Adam?" Adam raises his eyebrows and asks, "Who else?"

Who else indeed? That just about sums up the root of the single/only child situation— call it syndrome (OCS) or advantage.

The phenomenal increase of families with 'onlies'—an only child without any siblings—biological or adopted, could make a host of words like brother, sister, nephew and niece obsolete in the near future. Opines Susan Newman, a social psychologist at Rutgers University and author of "Parenting an Only Child", "Families have changed. I actually call the only child the new traditional family". (sic)

Medindia's survey on Single Child Syndrome in South India

Medindia's survey of some men and women 'onlies' in South India, aged between 18 and 45 years, brought into focus some interesting factors. With the single-child family increasingly becoming the norm in India, the questionnaire was aimed at exploring the situation from an only child's perspective.

88% said that their sense of responsibility towards aging parents weighed heavily on them.
96% said being the sinlge child forced them into some hard choices in life.
88% felt 'smothered' by 'parental care' bestowed on them.
72% missed the 'sharing' with a 'non-adult' family member.
38% missed a sibling for practical reasons, not so much for the emotional bonding. "You never miss what you've never had," said one.
80% said they have a lot of 'anger' in them, probably because they've had to internalize a lot many things, not wanting to upset their parents.
80% said they were addicted to social networking on the Internet.
100% said they were opposed to the concept of a 'single-child family'.
An Only Child: For Better or For Worse?
An Only Child: For Better or For Worse?

Interestingly, 'single' children who grew up in extended or joint families in rural areas said they never felt any different from those children with siblings, till they moved with their parents to cities for purposes of education and employment.

Single Child Syndrome: Fact vs Fiction

In the 1800s G. Stanley Hall, considered as the father of child psychology, dubbed being an only child, "a disease in itself." Ever since then, an only child has been stereotyped with unflattering tags such as selfish, self-absorbed, aggressive, bossy, lonely and maladjusted.  Though hundreds of research studies have shown that only children are no different from their peers, the question whether the single child syndrome is a myth or a reality continues to be debated world over.

It is generally assumed that parents lavish attention on their only child, which renders the child self-centered, highly dependent on parents and lacking discipline and inter-personal skills. Research however shows that 'onlies' become extremely independent and take on responsibilities very soon in life.  They take on more than they can handle and rarely or never ask for help.  Pleasing parents and devoting almost an entire lifetime trying to live up to expectations, is known to weigh them down heavily, but in most cases the expectations are usually theirs and not imposed.

The desire to succeed, mainly for self-fulfillment, is predominant in a single child.  Studies also show that single children are rarely dreamy, like things straight forward, tend to get one thing done at a time and generally like their lives uncluttered—everything tied in neat parcels with no loose ends. A landmark 20-year study shows that an increased one-on-one parenting produces higher education levels and higher achievement motivation.

Hobson's choice

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If the only child is a girl, she is weighed down by the responsibility of being the sole care-giver to aging parents and hesitates to move far away from them and have her own life.  Many single daughters without siblings turn inward and suffer depression.

If she chooses to marry, then again she becomes part of the 'sandwich generation'—needed by husband, children and in-laws on the one side and aging parents on the other. The situation becomes challenging in Asian cultures where married women have to choose to be more committed to their in-laws than to their parents.

Is the one-child family unit a healthy option?

Current lifestyles are redefining family norms and values while dictating newer choices in family type and size such as single parent families, homosexual parent families—the list gets updated ahead of family policy and government laws. Families are getting smaller and the only-child option is becoming the order of the day for a variety of reasons like economic restraints, easy manageability, increased infertility, death of a sibling or even the one-child policy legally encouraged in China.

Concurrently, Medindia's survey found that all those without siblings who participated in the survey were opposed to an only child option. In the US, only three percent of those polled by Gallup last year felt one child is ideal. Though the one-child family unit could place a lesser demand on the earth's fast -depleting reserves, the voice of the "onlies" advocating a more-than-one-child family unit needs to be acknowledged in order to promote a world that has an overall better emotional health.

Source: Medindia

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Agreed, this can be very good sharing for people in dilemma single child or two children. Children also don't come to know when they grew with two kids together.


I am an only child. I can relate to just about everything that has been said above. I have always found it difficult to accept anything less than perfect which may cause people to think I am self absorbed, but I am not. I care about the welfare of others the same, and sometimes more than the welfare of myself, I just completely immerse myself in getting everything right I forget some of the little things along the way. As I am now in my thirties I feel more fulfilled as my family life is weighed perfectly in my opinion; three kids and a successful husband that keeps me feeling competitive and ambitious. I strive for equality and that pushes me to the limit at times when I meet others that I have to work with that do not wish equality or strive for excellence. My life has seemed to many as a white picket fence but to me I always have an internal hurricane in the works of how I can do better and what I can do to be better. I believe that a lot of this was because I was the only child, around adults only growing up, adult sense of humor, older friends etc... and a sense of needing to catch up to the "adults" in my life and now surpassing them. I am happy that I was an only child, but also feel that I may be a more relaxed person if I had not been. I would not raise an only child myself since I think it takes a certain aspect of life away that I will never get to experience unless through my husband and his family i.e. my sister and brother in-laws, but to each their own.


I am very curious about the survey of onlies in South India. How many subjects? What ages? The percents are startling when compared with studies done in China, the US and other countries. A link to study?
Susan Newman, author of "Parentng an Only Child: The Joys & Challenges of Raising Your One & Only"


Very good report on only child syndrome

Seeking Emotional health will be the order of the day in a world of onlies in times to come


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