Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: The only child has entered the mainstream

10 comments
Some people love being an only child; some loathe it. Photo / Thinkstock
Some people love being an only child; some loathe it. Photo / Thinkstock

One-child families are the latest thing. "The only child is a growing phenomenon all over the world," reports The Telegraph. "Half of UK families now have just one child," says The Guardian. According to US-based Only Child, "The percentage of women who have one child has more than doubled in the past 20 years up from 10% to over 23%. Only child families are the fastest growing families in [the US] and most industrialized Western European countries."

The recession, the costs of raising a child and the fact many people are delaying having children until later in life are cited as reasons for the rapid rise of the only child. They used to be considered something of an anomaly. Time reported that in 1989 a sociologist said they were "overprivileged, asocial, royally autonomous...

self-centred, aloof and overly intellectual" while one expert from the late nineteenth century believed that "[b]eing an only child is a disease in itself."

I consider myself to have been virtually an only child. I had no siblings until my brother arrived when I was 13. We lived under the same roof for just four years before I left home to go to university so, in a funny way, we were both brought up in an only-child household. My ten-year-old is an only child. She's never remarked on this fact. The closest she came to referencing her only child status was a few years ago when she asked me if I could please provide her with an older brother. Hmmmm.

There's no shortage of research as to how only children compare to others. "Only children are more prone to obesity than kids with siblings," says the NZ Herald. "[O]nly-children are happier than those growing up with siblings," reports 3news. "The more siblings children have, the unhappier they become, due to bullying and competition," says The Observer. "Children who grow up without brothers or sisters are just as adept in social situations as their peers," writes The Telegraph.

I don't know for sure if it's better for children to grow up with siblings or without but I do know that for every perceived disadvantage of being an only child there's a benefit on the flip side. You could say an only child is lonely or you could say he/she has time for quiet contemplation. You could say an only child bears all the weight of parental expectation or you could say he/she is the focus of fully engaged parents. You could say an only child is overindulged or you could say he/she is given every opportunity. It's all a matter of perspective.

Some people love being an only child; some loathe it. Some only children will turn out selfish; some will be generous. Some will be loners; others will be gregarious.

Some parents choose to have just one child; other parents have no choice in the matter. No longer an oddity likely to be teased for being supposedly pampered and socially awkward, the only child has entered the mainstream and become a force to be reckoned with.


What's your experience of being an only child or parenting an only child? What are the pros and cons of having no siblings?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf01 at 23 Oct 2014 17:47:07 Processing Time: 500ms