There has been a lot of publicity recently about the cost of raising a child. With most estimates suggesting that this is £140,000 and more, many financially squeezed couples are now opting to have just one child. The proportion of single child families is growing quite rapidly but some parents feel guilty because they imagine that they may be short changing their child in not giving them a sibling. Is being an only child really a disadvantage and do additional children cost as much as the first?
For years it was suggested that only children could have issues as a result of the lack of siblings. Whilst they enjoyed the undivided attention of their parents and were generally better off with material things, it was felt that singletons struggled with social interaction and were more likely to be loners. I am an only child and found this idea rather odd! I have never struggled to make friends or had difficulties in any kind of social environment and neither has my cousin who is also an only child. The truth is that being a singleton rarely means that you are locked away without any kind of social contact. You still have nursery, school, hobbies and family where you learn to interact with others.
The latest research is showing that after the age of 7 there is actually no discernible difference socially between singletons and those with siblings and so parents needn’t feel guilty on that score. The situation in China has made research on the subject much more accurate. Previous exploration of this subject has been complicated. It was difficult to know how many of the characteristics of singletons were due simply to be an only child and how many were the result of being the child of the sort of people who chose to have only one offspring. In China, due to the one child policy, every family has a singleton and so the nature of the parents is not a factor in the research.
One fact which has consistently emerged is that only children are generally more independent and self-sufficient than others. This is something I do recognise in myself. Singletons have to fulfil the roles of the missing siblings and do not have the support and assistance of brothers and sisters and so learn to cope with everything themselves. It is also suggested that in a subconscious effort to fill the gap created by the lack of siblings, singletons have a greater tendency to adopt interests which are traditionally associated with the other sex. Male singletons are more likely to have an interest in cooking and female singletons are more likely than other girls to ride motorbikes. This is a trait I also recognise as I am female who loves football and had motorbikes for many years.
Having a sibling can be helpful to a child. The oldest child often develops leadership skills and younger siblings tend to learn to walk and talk earlier as they have someone to learn from and interact with. Singletons do catch up though in the long run. Middle siblings tend to develop into good negotiators and to be great diplomats. Each child in the family finds a role for themselves. The oldest often become the leaders, the middle children the mediators and younger children develop more quickly but get used to having others to rely on and so can be less independent but more sympathetic as individuals. If siblings get along they have the advantage of life-long friendship and can share the burden of caring for elderly parents. Many siblings, however, do not have a good relationship and so do not enjoy these benefits. In short there are both advantages and disadvantages to having siblings with the outcome in part being the result of chance.
For parents considering the financial implications of having more children there is no doubt that each offspring will cost a great deal but there are economies of scale. Additional children are not as costly as the first born as equipment like cots, car seats, furniture and the like can be used again and clothes and toys can be handed down.
It would seem that singletons and those with siblings are equally likely to turn out to be well adjusted people and just as likely to live happy lives. It turns out that the decision to have more children should not be based on concerns about the happiness of the first child. It really is a matter of what parents want and their financial situation.
Sally Stacey is keen writer and business owner who divides her time between writing an running her bridal shop