Only children get a bad rap. They are often perceived as selfish, spoiled, anxious, socially inept and lonely. And my profession, psychology, may be partly to blame for these negative stereotypes. Indeed, Granville Stanley Hall, one of the most influential psychologists of the last century and the first president of the American Psychological Association, said that “being an only child is a disease in itself”.
Thankfully, we have made some amends since then. The most recent being a study of almost 2000 German adults which found that only children are no more likely to be narcissistic than those with siblings. The title of the study is “The End of a Stereotype”.
But many other stereotypes remain, so let’s look at what the scientific research says.
If we look at personality, no differences are found between people with and without siblings in traits such as extroversion, maturity, cooperativeness, autonomy, personal control and leadership. In fact, only children tend to have higher achievement motivation (a measure of aspiration, effort and persistence) and personal adjustment (ability to “acclimatise” to new conditions) than people with siblings.
The higher achievement motivation of only children may explain why they tend to complete more years of education and reach more prestigious occupations than people with siblings.