The Secret World of Siblings
Emotional ambivalence often marks the most enduring relationship in life
Indeed, Falbo goes so far as to argue that only children are often better off at least in some respects--than those with brothers and sisters. Reviewing over 200 studies conducted since 1925, she and her colleague Denise Polit conclude that only children equal firstborns in intelligence and achievement, and score higher than both firstborns and later-borns with siblings on measures of maturity and leadership. Other researchers dispute these findings, however. Comparing only childrenwith firstborns over their life span, for example, University of California at Berkeley psychologist B. G. Rosenberg found that only children--particularly females--scored lower on intelligence tests than did firstborns with a sibling.
Rosenberg distinguishes between three types of only children. "Normal, well adjusted" onlies, he says, are assertive, poised and gregarious. "Impulsive, acting out" only children adhere more to the old stereotype, their scores on personality tests indicating they are thin-skinned, self-indulgent and self dramatizing. The third group resembles the firstborn children of larger families, scoring as dependable, productive and fastidious.
Perhaps the only real disadvantage to being an only child comes not in childhood but much later in life. Faced with the emotional and financial burdens of caring for aging parents, those without siblings have no one to help out. But as Falbo points out, even in large families such burdens are rarely distributed equally.