5 Science-Proven Facts About Only Children

5 Science-Proven Facts About Only Children

What makes your only child tick? Scientific birth order studies know.


By Kelly Bryant

Only children are an interesting group for a variety of reasons, but they’ve only recently become better researched. That’s because there are more “onlies” in the United States now than ever before, largely because families used to be larger than they are today. While only children tend to have characteristics similar to firstborns’, they have plenty of traits that separate them from the pack.

1. They’re most likely to be your mini-me. Only children tend to possess grownup characteristics early in life. “Only children are obviously just influenced by their parents,” says Kevin Leman, author bestselling author of The Firstborn Advantage and The Birth Order Book: Why You Are The Way You Are. “They’re little adults by age 7. They don’t always get along with kids their own age. They’re very adult-like. They’re voracious readers.”

2. They may exhibit similar traits to both firstborns and lastborns. Only children may find themselves with traits similar to both firstborns and lastborns simply because they’re the only child in the family. “I do think the pressures that are put on firstborns and the indulgences that are put on lastborns can get combined sometimes in onlies in a way that can be problematic,” suggests Catherine Salmon, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Redlands and author of The Secret Power of Middle Children. “But sometimes onlies can cope really well with it. Parents put so much effort into them that they are very successful and fulfill their parental expectations, and so everything is fine. But it is a lot of pressure put on one child.”

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3. They tend to be type A – but it pays off. Similar to firstborns, only children are achievers. “Only children tend to go into scientific areas, areas where perfection has paid off,” says Leman. “Anytime leadership is strong, perfection is part of it, [and] they are [often] firstborn or only born children.” Architects, engineers, surgeons – these are all occupations where you’ll find a lot of only children.

4. They have a unique set of values. There’s more to only children than simply being overachievers. They tend to value privacy, like things orderly and consistent, and are uncomfortable with conflict, according to a piece by Carl E. Pickhardt, PhD, in Psychology Today.

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5. They may face special challenges in adolescence. In his article, Pickhardt points out that specifically the first and final stages of adolescence can be difficult for an only child. “At the beginning, the separation from childhood in early adolescence -- ages 9 to 13 -- with the pushing against and pulling away from parents, creates more abrasion, distance, and loneliness,” he writes. “At the end, the departure into trial independence -- ages 18 to 23 -- can be scary when leaving home can feel like a loss of parents. Now reluctance to let go can protract dependency on parents when the time for more independence has arrived.” The good news: Pickhardt says during post-adolescence, only children and parents can often share a nurturing adult friendship.

Does any of this sound familiar about your only child?


Kelly Bryant is a freelance writer and pop culture junkie. She resides in Los Angeles with her husband and their two sons. Follow her on Twitter @MsKellyBryant.

Image ©iStock.com/OJO_Images


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