Singletons

The world of only children

Coins, Warts, Asthma, Eczema: Research Gone Amok

Will feeble attempts to bash only children never end?

Researchers study extraordinary, in some cases weird, phenomenon to prove-or make-their point. Sometimes they are successful, sometimes not.

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman unearthed some odd studies for their book, NutureShock: New Thinking about Children, an essential read if you're a parent. Bronson and Merryman reported that:

• Brazilian scholars looked at emergency room admittances among children who had swallowed coins.
• Israeli academics compared asthma incidences in children with 15 to 20 siblings as well as among those with a few siblings.
• A British team studied the incidence of warts in children.
• In Scotland, the research focus was on children with eczema.
• And, Italian researchers looked at eating disorders in female high school students.

With one exception, these studies were published after 2004. Each was attempting to show that something is wrong-or not quite right-with only children. They found nothing useful. The Brazilians abandoned their "coin" research because of a shortage of subjects; the Israelis concluded no difference in asthma among children with "a normal number of siblings;" there were no more eating disorders among female students with than without siblings; at age 11 only children have fewer warts, but apparently onlies have a higher incidence of eczema (I'll have to look into that.)

What these and other studies can't find is a clear and quantifiable disadvantage for being an only child. Researchers have been at it for decades with no success. The increase in the number of only children has set off an uneasiness because for more than a hundred years people have believed onlies are flawed-thank you psychologist G. Stanley Hall, circa 1896. Perhaps we can excuse Hall and other early attempts to disgrace only children, but this rash of studies seems to be groping at straws particularly in light of all the examination that has proven Hall so wrong.

For example, Heidi Riggio, assistant psychology professor at California State University, Los Angeles, tried to put an end to some of the negativism in her work on the importance of family structure for personality development. In her study "Personality and Social Skill Differences between Adults With and Without Siblings," she looked at core personality traits and social skills including the ability to express feelings, interpret verbal and nonverbal communication of others, the ability to control emotions and social sensitivity among other things generally thought to benefit from having siblings.

As Riggio notes, common thinking is that only children "may experience social skill deficits because of a lack of sibling relationships during key developmental periods." What she found is quite the opposite: only children did not differ in social skills. In fact the two groups were "remarkably" similar. In other words, singletons turn out as socially competent as children with siblings.

Coins, warts, asthma, eczema. Will feeble attempts to bash only children never end? 

Copyright @ 2010 Susan Newman

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photo credit: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/ejpphoto/2382053839/">EJP Photo</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

Susan Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her latest book is The Case for the Only Child: Your Essential Guide.

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