Only not lonely

For some time there has been a widely held belief that “only children”, those without siblings, grow up to be social misfits. The assumption is that lack of interaction with brothers and sisters leads to life-long social awkwardness. That notion is enough to make any parents have a second child but it is a notion that may not be accurate according to new research.

In 2004 research emerged that appeared to support the “only children become misfits” theory. That study looked at more than 20 000 kindergarten children and found that teachers rated only children as having poorer social skills than children who had brothers and sisters. Those only children were judged as having less self control, poorer interpersonal skills, and more behaviour problems.

On the face of it, that seals the only child’s social fate: they will be misfits. New research however, says not necessarily.

This new research analysed the answers of almost 13 500 teenage high school students who were asked to select five friends among their fellow students at school. The results showed that children without brothers and sisters were just as likely as those with brothers and sisters to be nominated as friends.

This could mean one of two things; either only children become more socially aware as they get older (moving from kindergarten to adolescence), or teachers evaluate differently to peers. Fortunately it was the same researchers who performed both of these studies and their estimate is that only children simply mature socially a little later but they do mature and move into friendship groups.

These findings have far reaching implications. They are deeply provocative for parents anxiously contemplating whether to have a second child for the sake of their first. They throw light on how quickly we often draw conclusions on social phenomena based on insufficient data. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, they mean that the band Three Dog Night have to rethink their lyric, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do” possibly to something like, “One is the loneliest number for a minor period until social equilibrium asserts itself.” Is that catchy enough?

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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