Being an only child, is there still a stigma?

Being an only child has always been associated with a bad start in life. In recent years, however, more families have gone against cultural expectations and decided to stop at one. Is the stigma finally decreasing or is there more to that decision?

The stigma of being an only child 

Women tend to be judged for their reproductive choices, including the decision to not try for a second. The judgement is due to several stereotypes including:

  • They grow up to be selfish
  • Spoiled because they receive too much parental attention
  • Have no siblings to learn social skills from

Recent research shows that these beliefs are a misconception. One example is a study that investigated if only children were more likely to be narcissistic than those who had a sibling.

It turns out that the stereotype is inaccurate. At the same time, the study revealed that many people still believe being an only child equals negative personality traits.

So if the stigma persists, why is having one child becoming the new norm?

The increase in families with one child

‘One-and-done’ parenting is a growing trend. In 2022, families with one child made up 44% of families in the UK. In comparison, families with two children made up 41% and those with 3 and more only 15%. 

This is an increase of 12% over the last 11 years in single-child families.

One of the reasons family dynamics are changing seems to be financial factors. As costs of living are rising, many parents can’t afford more than one baby to care for. Additionally, biological limitations play a role; women tend to start a family later in life and the fertility window closes before they try for a second child. 

People also begin to realise that single-child families have their benefits.

Parents can give their undivided attention, have more energy to spare and develop a stronger bond as a result. Parents are also able to allow for their own needs and self-care more and therefore create a more positive family dynamic.

As research shows, opting for one child might be a smarter choice for families’ mental health too. For example, Danish research looked at the effect of having children on parents’ happiness. While having a first-born child was found to increase a mother’s well-being, it wasn’t the case for having a second child. Being a parent often goes hand in hand with sleepless nights, chronic stress and postpartum depression so it’s not surprising some women don’t want to go through it twice. 

As the number of single-child families is expected to keep increasing, the stigma will hopefully disappear. Ultimately, the happier parents are with their choice, the happier your family will be regardless of societal expectations. 

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