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Does Being an Only Child Tend to Make a Child Spoiled?

by Dana Hinders, studioD

Only children are often viewed as spoiled, aggressive and selfish, but this is simply a stereotype with no basis in reality. Spoiled children are the product of parental attitudes, not family size. Although only children benefit from not having to share parental attention or resources, there is no scientific evidence supporting the claim that they are more spoiled than children with one or more siblings.

Identifying the Spoiled Child

If being "spoiled" is defined in terms of material possessions, then it would make sense that only children would be more spoiled than those with siblings. When a couple only has one child, they are better able to afford a roomful of toys, high-quality clothing or pricey extracurricular activities because there is no dilution of resources among multiple children. However, according to WebMD.com, child development experts generally define a spoiled child as one who is given everything without having to earn it. This child is overprotected and overindulged because his parents haven't learned how to say no. For example, regularly making special meals to accommodate a picky eater or allowing a child who is way past the toddler years to throw a temper tantrum could be considered signs of spoiling. These behaviors don't have a true financial cost and are just as likely to be found among parents of only children as they are among parents with two or more children.

Are Only Children Aggressive and Selfish?

Parents often equate being spoiled with being aggressive and selfish, since these behaviors seem to be more common in spoiled children. Susan Newman, author of "Parenting an Only Child" and a social psychologist at Rutgers University, says that there have been hundreds of research studies showing that only children are no different from their peers in terms of exhibiting aggressive or selfish behavior. On her website, she states that only children have less difficulty in a group setting because they aren't programmed to try to run the show. They've never had to compete for a parent's attention at home and thus don't feel compelled to dominate their peers in an attempt to make their voices heard.

Looking at the Effects of China's One Child Policy

One study of particular interest to parents of only children considers families in China, which is well-known for its one-child policy introduced in 1979. This study, led by Lisa Cameron, a professor of econometrics and business statistics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, looked at only children as young adults and found no signs of spoiled behavior or significant differences in their relationships with friends and peers. This study is thought to be especially meaningful because government regulations take away the effect of family background on the only child's development. This means researchers aren't comparing people who've deliberately chosen to have one child with those who have purposely chosen to have multiple children.

How Are Only Children Different?

Although studies have never proven that only children are more spoiled than their peers, several researchers have found that only children do score higher than children with siblings in terms of intelligence and general achievement. In a "Time" magazine story about only children, Toni Falbo, a professor of educational psychology and sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, says these findings occur even when factors such as race or social class are taken into consideration. Her research also found that only children tend to pursue advanced degrees at a higher rate than children with siblings.

About the Author

Dana Hinders is an Iowa-based writer. She earned her B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa in 2003.

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