Only Child Myth Debunked

January 31, 2011


My name is Ryan Self, and I am an only child.

It’s a confession I usually hesitate to make because it means I’ll have to respond to a number of misconceptions about only children, “Oh, you must be really spoiled,” or “Gee, you must have been really lonely growing up” being common ones.

I may not understand a few of the odd traditions some families have, like shouting “shotgun” before entering the car, but I think only children have unfairly been given a bad rap.

I’ve always been irritated when, during a conversation about difficult people, the self-absorbed, annoying behavior is explained away by the fact that the difficult person is an only child. There’s usually an outlining of the frustrating behaviors of that person, and then, after a long pause, the statement: “They’re an only child” – as if it’s a cause-and-effect relationship.

That pervasive misconception has no basis in reality. A recent article in Time debunked many of these erroneous stereotypes and revealed that “no one has published research that can demonstrate any truth behind the stereotype of the only child as lonely, selfish and maladjusted.”

Misconceptions about only children have been around for decades. In 1896, a study was released concerning only children, un-affectionately titled “Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children,” which likely introduced many of the negative stereotypes people believe today.

One of the more stunning statements made in the study claimed that “being an only child is a disease in itself.” Ouch.

But wait, there’s more: As recently as 1989, sociologist Judith Blake published a book stating that only children are “overprivileged, asocial, royally autonomous…self centered, aloof and overly intellectual.” I don’t know what caused these researchers to hold such harsh views of only children but their conclusions seem a bit extreme.

Despite their diseased, asocial, pampered upbringing (don’t forget “spoiled,” “humored” and “socially deficient” according to the aforementioned 1896 study), only children have somehow managed to find their way in society. Only children have grown up to become world leaders (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Condoleezza Rice), inspire thousands with their endurance (Lance Armstrong) and entertain millions long after their deaths (Elvis Presley, Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra).

I would mention that God had an only child, but that might be taking it a little too far.

Being an only child, rather than being a developmental stumbling block, may actually have significant benefits. It turns out, as a recent story on ABC News explains, that “while a battery of studies shows no difference with onlies when it comes to bossiness or acting spoiled… A landmark 20-year study showed that increased one-on-one parenting produces higher education levels, higher test scores and higher levels of achievement.”

Only children are maladjusted loners? Please.


2 Responses to “Only Child Myth Debunked”

  1. Brent Bailey Says:

    Sounds like the main problem (or the only problem) with being an only child is the stigma that’s attached to it. Stereotypes are never fun, especially when they seem to have no basis in reality.

  2. Al Figueroa Says:

    Hello! I just stump upon your page via Yahoo. What a nice blog you have! I appreciate it very much! Thank you for supplying such valuable service to the entire internet world!

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