The Seven Ages of an Only Child

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The Seven Ages of an Only Child

Newspaper article

By: Joanna Moorhead

Date: March 4, 2006

Source: Moorhead, Joanna. "The Guardian." The Seven Ages of an Only Child. (March 4, 2006).

About the Author: Joanna Moorhead is a staff writer for The Guardian, one of the largest circulating daily newspapers in England.


Many aspects of how a person chooses a job and a mate, relates to co-workers, and relates to family members are linked to that individual's placement in his or her birth family. Only children were once rarities. By the late twentieth century, they had become common. The different life pattern of onlies can be seen in every major life event.

The first child in a family usually identifies with the values of the parents and works at becoming what they want. Guardians of the status quo, eldest children do not like change. Since parents emphasize achievement with a first-born; these children tend to be tenser, more serious, more reserved, and less playful than others. An eldest brother of brothers may find it difficult to work with women, while an eldest sister of brothers may be quite comfortable exercising authority over male employees.

The next child, unable to compete with the eldest, often gets recognition by becoming a rogue, the very opposite of the firstborn. While they benefit from the more relaxed atmosphere that accompanies later births in families, middle children are often displaced by a new baby. As adults, they are sensitive to being left out or slighted. Middle children are less pressured by the parents to succeed and show fewer tendencies to take initiative or think independently. Adept at dealing with all kinds of people, they are skilled negotiators. Youngest children often remain dependent on others and are more than likely than their siblings to be undisciplined in their personal lives. The youngest tend to procrastinate continually, be risk takers and are happiest in jobs that involve social interaction. With no experience caring for others, youngest children tend to be less attentive parents.

Only children show some of the characteristics of oldest children yet are likely to remain childlike into adulthood. They have a higher self-esteem than the eldest ones, with less need to control others. Since they did not have to negotiate with siblings, onlies do not understand the necessity of sharing control. Very comfortable living alone and lacking experience with children, onlies are the least likely birth order to enjoy marriage and the most likely to remain childless. Onlies have trouble adjusting to the different personalities of too many peers at the same time and generally prefer occupations that allow them to work alone.


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


As each child enters a family, the roles and expectations for children within that family change. These differences, as Sigmund Freud was the first psychotherapist to note, mean that each child is treated in a different way and each will establish a distinct identity by using different behaviors to get approval and attention. All other things being equal, birth order traits develop on the basis of five circumstances of birth: the order of birth, the sex of the child, the number of years between the births of siblings, the sex of siblings, and the birth order of the parents.

The average family size in developed nations has shrunk dramatically since the mid-twentieth century. For generations upon generations, families consisted of numerous children. Such offspring played a vital role in running the family farm or otherwise helping to provide for the family. Parents who wished to limit their family size were often unable to do so because effective birth control was not available. By the 1960s, children were no longer needed to supplement the family income and birth control had become both readily available and reliable. Additionally, the rise of the welfare state in Europe meant that Europeans did not need children to care for them in old age. For these reasons, the number of births dropped. Only children, once a rarity, have become common.

The societal impact of these children of the baby boomers is not yet fully known. However, psychologists have already noted the phenomenon of "helicopter" parents who hover over their children and wrap them in overprotectiveness. With just one child, parents can focus all their hopes, dreams, and anxieties on the one.



Richardson, Ronald W. and Lois A. Richardson. Birth Order and You. North Vancouver, B.C.: Self Counsel Press., 1990.

Toman, Walter. Family Constellation: Its Effects on Personality and Social Behavior. New York: Springer, 1976.

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