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Single child families: The new normal?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the single child family is the fastest-growing family unit. Is one child the new traditional family - and is it fair?

By Charyn Pfeuffer - MSN Living Editor Mar 7, 2013 9:43PM

Nearly half of children in the U.K. are in single-child families, Aquarius magazine reports. It’s the same in some parts of the U.S. where according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the single child family is the fastest-growing family unit.

Photo: Single child families / Sonntag/Getty ImagesMore from MSN Living: Top 10 dog names of the year

Gallup first measured Americans' preferred family size in 1936, at which time close to two-thirds (64 percent) thought three or more children was ideal. This view stretched to 77 percent at the end of World War II and remained near 70 percent for an additional two decades. But attitudes shifted in the 1970s following the publication of the book "The Population Bomb," which warned of the catastrophic risks of overpopulation.

As U.S. birth rates drop – the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the country experienced a four percentage point decline in live births between 2007 and 2009 – and preferences continue to shift toward smaller family sizes, the great only child debate rages on.

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Take Carmen* for example. The 32-year-old woman loved growing up sans siblings and would highly recommend it.

“In my opinion, children without siblings are higher achievers because they’re exposed to increased parental scrutiny,” she told Aquarius magazine. “When the spotlight is on you, and only you, you pull your socks up that bit higher.”

In his book, “Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families,” author Bill McKibben reveals that only children also score higher when it comes to making friends, adjusting to new environments, self-control and interpersonal skills.

Amelia*, 46, is one of four siblings and mother of four children, believes in the benefits from growing up with a sister or brother at home.

“Growing up in a big family, there were times I would quite happily have swapped all my siblings for the chance to have my own bedroom,” she told Aquarius magazine. “But as adults, they are my go-to people – a phenomenon researchers at Ohio State University call the ‘hour glass effect of siblings.’ meaning how we grow apart and then grow back together in later years.”

Tell us on Facebook: Do you think it's fair to have an only child? What are the positives and negatives of this family dynamic?

*Names changed to protect identity

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Photo: Single child families / Sonntag/Getty Images

Mar 14, 2013 3:26PM
every day i see prime examples of people who had too many kids (in some cases one was too many) and the results are not good. if ya can't take care of them, PLEASE don't make them. this produces one of the WORST situations for the kids when parent(s) hang on to kids they have ABSOLUTELY no clue about managing. i'd rather have one kid i could be certain would have a decent chance at life than doom more to famine, poverty and lack of guidance.
Mar 14, 2013 12:41PM
It wasnt my intention, but I am a huge fan of the only child. I never had to compromise his needs or well being, even after his father left us when I was sick (needing a kidney transplant) He has been able to pursue his passions and not do without. He is bright and compassionate and we have a close relationship that I did not have (but wanted) with my own mother (who had 7 kids).  That very close and bonded relationship is the best benefit-of course I hope to have more than one grandchild, but that's just me being selfish. 
Mar 13, 2013 6:46PM

My sister and I just lost our Dad to cancer about a month ago. I'm 28 and she's 25. My parents were divorced about 8 years ago, so it's just my sister and I. I can't imagine not having someone there that I grew up with and can relate fully to, going through all of this. My husband and I have one child right now, and I just recently found out we will be expecting another one this fall. We were not for sure if we wanted more than one child, as it is easier to travel and be a little more free financially. However, after everything with my Dad, I am glad that our son will have another sibling in life to share good things, as well as those bad things that can happen unexpectedly in life!

Mar 13, 2013 5:07PM

I think it is a choice for many.  However, I also know many more who are simply not able to have more than one.  Fertility treatments or adoption (which can run upward of $50,000) are out of reach for lots of people one time, let alone multiple times.  Furthermore, there is the commonly held (and erroneous) assumption that all women who try to start families later in life do so by choice, when, in fact, there may be a whole lot of circumstances beyond their control.

Mar 13, 2013 3:45AM
I believe it's a personal choice how many children you have or whether you have any at all. Some people should not be parents while others would make great parents but can't have children. Case in point, my Aunt and Uncle wanted to adopt when they were in their 40s. The powers-that-be wouldn't place a child with them because they deemed my Aunt a workaholic. She worked because she has a strong work ethic, but she would have easily devoted that time to a child instead. I believe she would have made a great mom.
Mar 12, 2013 5:34PM
Going through the comments I am constantly seeing people talk about "more kids = more money". This is really annoying. I'm a mommy of one and plan to keep it that way. 1) I want to give all I have to my one son and just him. I want to focus on JUST him. Their is nothing wrong with that. 2) Financially it is responsible for me to make the choice of just one. And I am on some government assistance! But I didn't pop my kid out for free money and this stereotype is ridiculous. I work full-time, go to school, provide a roof, food, and clothes for my son all on my own paycheck. I get designated assistance such as for some of his food. I work hard for what I have and for what I'm giving my son so I feel no guilt getting help from the government. I see it as I am a tax payer who is getting back what is owed to me. Assistance is there for a reason. I am not abusing the system. I am trying to make a life for my son and I and also I do not plan on being on assistance forever, I do eventually want to be BETTER established and get off of it. But if I need help, I've learned to take it - especially now having a child.
Mar 12, 2013 4:56PM
Basically, if you cannot afford to raise a child whether you are single, married or living together then do not have them.  Society can no longer afford to pay for children that the parents cannot support.  
Mar 12, 2013 4:35PM
One child in modern times is more than enough !!...with an uncertain economy and a world already filled with 9 Billion people fighting over recources, i see no need to unnecessarily add to the problem. Besides as the article points out, with only one child I get to focus all my attention on him / her assuring a better life when they are grown up !
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