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Children without Siblings Suffer No Long Term Social Disadvantage


Many parents fear that having only one child causes him or her to miss out on peer interaction and placing him at a social disadvantage later in life. However, researchers at Ohio State University have found that children without siblings overcome any social deficits they have by the time they are teens and have just as many friends as their peers.

Social Disadvantages that Only Children May Face Disappears Over Time

The researchers, led by Donna Bobbit-Zeher and Douglas Downey, studied 13,446 teenagers aged 12 to 18 (grades 7 through 12) who participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The adolescents were asked to name five male friends and five female friends. The average teen was named five times and only children were named as often as those with siblings.

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No differences were seen whether the child had brothers or sisters or a combination of the two, nor did the total number of siblings appear to alter the findings. Parental age, race, and socio-economic status also appeared to have no impact.

A previous study conducted by Downey in 2004 showed that children without brothers and sisters showed poorer social skills in kindergarten, including self-control and interpersonal skills, but this newer study indicates that the correlation diminishes over time.

"Over time, as children move from elementary school into junior high and high school, they've had more time for peer interaction," says Bobbit-Zeher, who presented the results at the American Sociological Association meeting in Atlanta. "I don’t think anyone has to be concerned that if you don’t have siblings, you won’t learn the social skills you need to get along with other students."

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of families with only chidren has nearly doubled, to about 20 percent, since the 1960’s.
"Kids interact in school, they're participating in extracurricular activities, and theyre socializing in and out of school," observed Bobbit-Zeher. "Anyone who didn't have that peer interaction at home with siblings gets a lot of opportunities to develop social skills as they go through school."