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Why Having Just One Child is Just Fine

Are you the parents of an only child? If so, do you often get the probing and assuming questions of when you’ll have your next one? Do you feel the societal pressure to have more than one?

If you are the parent of an only child, with no plans to add to your family, hopefully you will be relieved to know that you are not alone in your choice. According to census data, the rate of only-child households in the US are on the rise, at around 23% (as of 2014), a percentage which hasn’t been seen since the Great Depression. There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  1. Finances: Having a child is an expensive undertaking. For a middle-income family to raise one child up until their 18th birthday, the average cost comes in just shy of a quarter of a million dollars!
  2. Parental Age: The average age of first-time parents has been increasing. The average age of first-time mothers as of 2016 was 26, up from 21 in 1972. For first-time fathers, the average age is now 31, up from 27. Biologically, the longer you wait to have children, the more likely you are to experience complications with pregnancy and fertility, not to mention your energy level when you are in your 30s and 40s is likely drastically different than it was when you were in your 20s.
  3. Education: Today, more people are choosing to pursue a higher level of education and are focusing primarily on their careers. This is the main factor that plays into the increase in parental age for first-time parents. As of 2016, the average age of first time mothers who had a college degree was significantly older than those who didn’t (~ 30 years vs. ~ 24 years).
  4. Partnership: Many couples (at a ratio of 3:1 as of 2007) now believe that the main focus of a marriage or partnership should be on “mutual happiness and fulfillment” rather than on raising a family. There is no question that becoming a parent introduces a level of complexity and, sometimes, strain to the partnership. For some, finding the balance between being a partner and a parent means scaling back on how many children are added to the family.

There has been a long-standing belief that only children will grow up to be selfish, conceited, self-centered, even narcissistic. This belief likely stems from the fact that, when you have just one child to attend to, there is no “dilution of resources.” In other words, you aren’t trying to split your time, attention, and other resources between multiple people. This has led to the assumption that only children are likely to become spoiled and overindulged. However, the benefits of not having to dilute your resources is often overlooked. Parents who are able to devote the majority of their time, energy, and resources to one child statistically has been shown to lead to higher SAT scores and higher self-esteem. Only children tend to do better in school and receive a higher level of education than do children with siblings. There are a number of famous and well-accomplished only children, including Franklin Roosevelt, Condoleezza Rice, Lance Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Chelsea Clinton.

To be very clear, this does not mean that it is a bad idea to have more than one child, if that is what you choose to do, and your children will certainly not be “doomed” to lower grades and SAT scores. The point is, the only ones who should be deciding what is best for you and your family is… well, you and your family.


  1. One and Done by Lauren Sandler. TIME Magazine. July 19, 2010 edition.
  2. One-child America: A nation of only children could be smarter, more mature—or conceited by Jennifer Graham. Deseret News. October 16, 2014.
  3. The Age That Women Have Babies: How a Gap Divides America. The New York Times. August 4, 2018 edition.
  4. The Cost of Raising a Child Jumps to $233,610 by Mahita Gajanan. Time Inc. January 9, 2017.

Photo: Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

Christina Stai

Author: Christina Stai

Dr. Christina Stai is a licensed clinical psychologist in both California and Iowa. She specializes in young children and received her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from Azusa Pacific University, an APA accredited school near Los Angeles. She completed an APA accredited internship and APPIC accredited postdoctoral fellowship at a residential emergency shelter with abused and neglected foster youth.  We are proud that she has joined Hope Springs.

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