Natalie Portman, Franklin D. Roosevelt, writers John Updike and Danielle Steel, and Beatles John Lennon and Ringo Starr are just the tip of the list. It includes Barbara Bush, Robin Williams, Elvis Presley, the Gandhi's, Indira and Mathatma. Also having the same link are tennis sensation Maria Sharapova, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Leonardo da Vinci. 

Yes, they have names we recognize; they are star attractions in their fields. They are famous. You may not love them all, but you can't negate the fact that in one way or another they achieved and are notably accomplished.

How can someone like Alan Greenspan be on the same list with Robert De Niro and Tipper Gore? Quite simply, they are all only children. A more complete list is in my new book, The Case for the Only Child

When Natalie Portman received an Oscar for her performance in "Black Swan," she told reporters, "I had the sole attention of my parents. And you know what? If I had had brothers or sisters, I would have never become an actress. My mother accompanied me to every audition and every acting class. With more children that would have never been possible." 

Has anyone ever told you that only children are very like children from two-child families? I would guess not. In important areas such as self-confidence, calmness, health, or age of marriage, and education, "onlies are much more like other children than they are different," reported John Claudy of the American Institutes for Research more than thirty years ago! His landmark twenty-year study also showed that only children in two-parent homes exhibited higher intelligence and higher levels of achievement than children with one sibling.

As part of the research for The Case for the Only Child, I spoke with Pete Stavinoha, a neuropsychologist at the Children's Medical Center in Dallas. He concurs with Claudy's findings and explained one reason for an only child's success: "Only children have the best of everything and in some ways, they are better off. Not sharing their parents' time and resources helps to explain only children's achievement motivation and verbal skills. They are more likely to continue higher education and more driven to succeed. Some parents choose to have one child for those very reasons," he told me.

Many, particularly in the current economy and social climate, have or choose to have an only child for long list of other reasons: from starting their families when they are older, facing infertility problems, changing adoption regulations, work related issues, the cost of raising children, to name a few. And, still relatives, friends, even strangers keep interfering and telling those with one child to have another. The social and personal pressure to have more children is substantial. Although many children with siblings are equally successful, the very long list of accomplished only children underscores that singletons "do" just fine.

Can you add an only child friend or relative who seems headed for the list? An only child, still a child, who is thriving? With an ever-growing number of single-child families, I'm thinking you probably can. 

Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman


Claudy, J. G., Farrell, W. S., and Dayton, C. W., "The Consequences of Being an Only Child: An Analysis of Project Talent Data," Palo Alto, CA: American Institutes for Research, 1979. 

Gore, Marci. "Onlies the Lonelies? Studies debunk idea that only children lack social skills." Kingsport News-Times, March 2, 2011. 

Newman, Susan. The Case for the Only Child (Health Communications, June, 2011).

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