Popular culture typically stigmatizes the birth order position of the "only child." If asked, most average people would typically describe the personality characteristics of an only child negatively, indicating the assumption that only children are spoiled brats. After all, for their entire lives, they have been the sole recipient of the attention and love of their parents. Does this fact destine only children to a life of self-serving behavior? Are people with siblings merely jealous of the experiences had by only children? How does the ordinal position of the only child actually affect personality traits, life experiences, and ability to form interpersonal relationships? This paper explores the expected behaviors and adult implications of growing up an only child. It is important to remember that each person is unique, his or her experiences varied and motivations different. However, trends develop, and I will attempt to generalize common traits of an adult only child.
The choice of mothers to birth and raise only one child is becoming more common. In 1984, 12.2% of women gave birth to only one child and in 1994 this number increased to 17.1%. That is a 40% increase in only 10 years, and the trend continues to rise. (Fleck, 1997) A variety of reasons attribute for this trend, including women being more career-oriented, waiting to bear children, and the financial burden multiple children impose on parents. The decision to not have multiple children exemplifies the desire to invest the maximum parental energy, love and effort into one child. The passion and intent of these parents shines through in their singletons throughout their whole life.
Not every child or childhood is created equal and, with the human experience being dynamic and broad in scope, it is appropriate that each adult exhibits different personality traits and flaws. According to Rosenberg and Hyde (1992), three types of onlies exist: type one, labeled as normal and well-adjusted; type two, labeled as impulsive and acting out; type three, labeled as first-bornish. Their research vastly spanned the human life span, with participants ranging from age eleven to late-sixties representing both genders. They concluded that each type remained consistent throughout the lifespan, however, some of the particular qualities diminished in later adult stages. The positive qualities exhibited by types one and two start to become similar in adult years, with both exhibiting dependability, productiveness, and other stable traits.