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Only children 'happier' according to this study...

(241 Posts)
edam Tue 16-Nov-10 10:18:48

Interesting stuff for those of us with only children. Although I'm amazed apparently we make up half of all households - not in this neck of the woods or amongst my friends and family.

Also think it has to be balanced with what it's like to be an only child as an adult, especially coping with elderly parents and parents dying. I know my mother has felt desperately lonely at times - she has friends but no-one who shares her childhood memories.

(My strategy is to hope ds will remain very close to his cousins, who are fortunately very close in age - at least there's someone who will know who he's moaning about when he complains about me in later years!)


Telegraph 15 November

Only children happier than those with siblings
Only children are happier than those with brothers or sisters, according to new research which shows that sibling rivalry can have a serious effect on a child's emotional wellbeing.

More than half of the children surveyed said they had been bullied by a sibling, and one in three said they had been hit, kicked or pushed on regular occasions. Others complained of name-calling and having their belongings stolen.

The Understanding Society study run by the Institute for Social and Economic Research concluded that happiness declines the more siblings there are in a household.

Other reasons for only children being more contented include not having to compete for parental attention or to share a bedroom with a sibling, said Gundi Knies, a researcher on the project

Dr Ruth Koppard, a child psychologist, said: "In an average home, the more children, the less privacy for each child. Some love sharing a bedroom with a sibling but they would rather choose to do it than have to do it."

Homes with just one child make up nearly half of all families in Britain.

The study, to be published on Friday, questioned 2,500 young people. It also found that seven out of 10 teenagers are "very satisfied" with their lives and children from ethnic minorities are happier than their white counterparts.

Unprune Tue 16-Nov-10 10:26:28

Good to hear something positive smile

(I think the onus is on us as parents to take steps to provide for ourselves as we age, but of course that only covers some outcomes and not the emotional burden at all.

I have a brother and take absolutely no comfort from his existence, and know that he wouldn't help us anyway. Even people who get on with their siblings can find they hand over all the responsibility, come up to visit and get five times the thanks for being there for a day. It's just possible that caring for an elderly and infirm person is basically hard, whatever the number of siblings.)

AMumInScotland Tue 16-Nov-10 10:46:59

Yes nice to hear some good news!

I suspect the "nearly half of all families" will be skewed by families who have had their first child, and will continue to have more in the future. Which is not quite the same as having an "only child" who is going to stay an only. There's also quite a few families who have one child quite young but then wait before having more - either because they want to get into a beter position financially, or because they are raising the first as a single parent and maybe don't have the time or inclination to start another relationship and maybe go on to have more children. So I don't think its surprising to be that high, even though you don't seem to meet that many families with an only!

ramonaquimby Tue 16-Nov-10 10:52:55

what a bunch of rubbish!

edam Tue 16-Nov-10 11:24:54

Why rubbish? It's by a reputable think thank, large study (2,500 children).

WildhoodChunder Tue 16-Nov-10 11:51:48

I think it's a bit suspect based on their measures of 'happiness'. E.g one of which is whether siblings have ever called each other names, or have got cross at having to share sweets with each other. Only children can get called names by peers, and have to learn to share too, so I don't see how this is valid.

But then we've just had DC2 so I am biased in looking for flaws. grin

CMOTdibbler Tue 16-Nov-10 11:59:25

I'd be happier if I didn't have a brother. I do all the caring for them, and he deigns to phone them every few weeks. At the moment I'm sorting out buying them some pictures of his wedding as he can't be bothered to help them get them.

sparks Tue 16-Nov-10 12:16:44

The news article doesn't tell you how the researchers measured the participants' happiness. It doesn't say that those examples mentioned in the second paragraph were used as measure of happiness in the study, just that those things were reported by the children surveyed.

What is 'happiness' anyway? hmm

ramonaquimby Tue 16-Nov-10 12:21:18

because another group will come along and have evidence to prove the opposite is true.
of course kids want their own bedrooms
of course they are completing for attention from mum and dad

don't see how this equals unhappiness
how old were the children in the study? how where the questions asked?

you can generally get stats to say what you want

reallytired Tue 16-Nov-10 13:57:06

There is a difference between short term happiness and preparation for life. Is happiness necessarily measured in material pocessions? An only child will not miss what they have never experienced.

Human beings belong in groups. Babies benefit from older sibblings. In cave man times the mother of the first born baby borrowed the eight year old from the cave next door.

My son was an only child for seven years and now he has a sister. His life is certainly different, but I don't think he is less happy.

Prehaps the issue is what age gaps are best for children. In the past prolonged breastfeeding meant that age gaps were bigger. The toddler would have been the baby of the family for three years.

edam Tue 16-Nov-10 15:31:47

YY clearly a difference between children being asked about siblings/lack of and what they would say/report as adults. (I did point this out in the OP.)

Mind you, I still remember the sheer RELIEF of finally getting my own bedroom when we moved house. Love both my sisters dearly and wouldn't be without them but I'm sure if some researcher had asked me when I was 7 or so I'd have expressed a strong desire to be an only!

wannabeglam Tue 16-Nov-10 21:54:01

I think it's tosh too. I'd love to know what questions they asked.

Most of my friends with siblings LOVED it. A small percentage hated it. I know some onlies who loved it, I HATED it.

My son was an only for 6 years. He just loves having a sister. But he has friends who are still onlies and who are very happy.

sleepycat Tue 16-Nov-10 21:55:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

sleepycat Tue 16-Nov-10 21:59:03

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Takver Tue 16-Nov-10 22:03:18

sleepycat, the study doesn't contradict what you say at all, it only says that on average only children are happier.

The report that I saw of the study also reported that the more siblings a child has, the less happy they are likely to be, on average of course.

That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of miserable onlies and happy children with 5 siblings.

It may still be untrue (a badly designed study, or perhaps even more likely, reported badly/misleadingly) of course.

tethersend Tue 16-Nov-10 22:05:18

It would be interesting if they could follow the sample group through their lives and assess their happiness at different points as they get older.

It is conceivable that only children may not be as happy as people with siblings when they are older adults caring for elderly parents- it is also conceivable that they may be much happier than people with siblings at other times.

The research is far from conclusive- it seems just to provide a snapshot of happiness levels at a given time.

sleepycat Tue 16-Nov-10 22:05:44

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

piscesmoon Tue 16-Nov-10 22:22:35

People come up with these rubbish conclusions! It depends entirely on the DC -some are and some are not.

hester Tue 16-Nov-10 22:34:01

I think it is highly unlikely you could predict whether any individual would be more or less happy with a sibling: it depends so much on that particular relationship. But as I read the study (as written up in the Guardian) it was saying something slightly different, which was that average happiness decreases slightly with each additional sibling. Differences are not that marked between onlies and families of 2 or 3. But, generally, children are less happier in large families.

Which of course doesn't mean that this is always the case. I'm sure there are zillions of very happy large families. But it does make sense to me that where resources get overstretched, relationships are under strain. In my extended family, there are a number of large families. My mum's birth family, my dad's family, and my daughter's dad's family: all were around the double figures mark. And in those three families there was no space, no money, no parental attention, lots of bullying... I only had two siblings, but we only had one parent, and she was young, single and unsupported, in crappy emergency council housing and on benefits. Though I love my siblings now, as children we were definitely rivals for scarce resources, and I'm fairly certain I would have had a happier childhood without them around.

Again, I'm NOT saying that this means that only children are always happy, and large families are always a bad idea. I don't suppose the authors of this research are saying that either. These studies are always media reported very simplistically.

hester Tue 16-Nov-10 22:35:25

'Less happier" = "less happy", obviously.

didgeridoo Tue 16-Nov-10 23:20:54

Being an only child of two only children with an only child of my own (are you still with me!?)it was nice to hear some positive comments. I get fed up with people assuming we must be lonely/selfish/over-indulged/anti-social etc. These things have nothing to do with being an only and everything to do with parenting. I've met plenty of kids with siblings who have these characteristics. I was & am very happy to be an only as are my dc & my parents. My dh is 1 of 3 and would love to be an only grin.

edam Tue 16-Nov-10 23:26:42

Good post, Hester. From selfish, survival of the fittest, point of view, being an only is fab - no competition for attention or resources at all. Which may be a mixed blessing, of course, when you are the ONLY one who can fulfill parental ambitions.

My mother vaguely remembers as a small child her parents talking about adopting a sister for her - she thinks one child even came back from the orphanage for a weekend visit. But they decided against as they thought they would struggle to provide two children with a good upbringing and education (her parents were not well off). Ironically they never told her she was adopted - she always thought the idea of adopting a sibling was because they were older parents...

cory Wed 17-Nov-10 09:01:07

I'm sitting here thinking about the concept of happiness, what is it, what does it mean? Is it something I even want for my dcs? And if so, what is it I want for them?

Tricky, but I think what I really want is for them to be able to look back on their lives and say, yes my life has been really worthwhile. Not necessarily to feel comfortable or cheerful every single moment of the road. Not necessarily feeling they've had an easy ride all the time.

I don't think the question of sibling or only child is really the crucial one. Learning to enjoy a challenge and growing with the tough times is what matters in the long run. But very different from the kind of happiness that can be measured with a questionnaire.

EdgarAirbombPoe Wed 17-Nov-10 09:05:41

i think its interesting that children from ethnic minorities were found to be 'happier'...

why did they think that was?

agree that measures of 'happiness' are a bit dodgy...

I was very happy to be from a large family, and objected when i first got my own bedroom...

roslily Wed 17-Nov-10 09:13:38

My ds will be an only, not entirely through my choice. As has been said it is nice to hear something positive, as I am constantly told that it is cruel, and that he will be lonely etc. It is horrid, especially as they don't know the reasons.

I loved having a sister, dh hated having brothers.

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