Myths and facts of being an only child

Only children are not any more spoiled, anti-social or lonely than children with siblings.

When you hear the words “only child,” what characteristics come to your mind? If you are like most people you might think: Spoiled, anti-social, selfish, unpleasant or lonely to name a few. Part of this view is from a study conducted more than 100 years ago by G. Stanley Hall (1844 – 1924). His rural view of family was a product of the times; a family should consist of a large gaggle of children helping out on the family farm. He went so far as to describe only children as damaged. Sigmund Freud (1856—1939) appealed to parents to adopt a second child if they couldn’t conceive one, so as to avoid an only child who would be prone to sexual identity problems. Alfred Adler (1860-1937) implied that only children lacked the ability to do anything independently.

You would think those opinions alone would scare people into avoiding the only child syndrome. Not so. According to the United States Census, families with only children have risen from 10 percent in 1980 to 19 percent in 2012. If you take into account women who are the head of their households, that number rises to 28 percent having only children. For the past two decades, the People’s Republic of China in an effort to address a population explosion has implemented a “one child” policy. With over 90 percent of urban and 60 percent of rural children without siblings, one might worry about a generation of self-centered individuals.

Toni Falbo, professor of educational psychology in the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin, has spent the past 30 years focusing on dispelling the negative myths about only children. Her research has found that not only do only children benefit from receiving a majority of their parents attention, their parents tended to raise them like the preferred and valued first born. According to Falbo, only children have the following positive characteristics as compared to children with siblings:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Good students
  • Higher academic achievements
  • Score higher on verbal ability
  • Higher achievements as adults

Did you know the following famous people were only children?

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • Robert DeNiro
  • Tommy Lee Jones
  • Rudy Guiliani
  • Allan Greenspan
  • Tiger Woods
  • Elvis Presley
  • Chelsea Clinton

So if you are the parent of an only child, no need to feel like your child is destined to grow up spoiled or lonely. If you are an only child, take heart, look at all the perks you have going for you. Michigan State University Extension offers programming and education for families and healthy relationships. For more information on family and healthy relationships visit our website at

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