Source: Mathilde Langevin / Unsplash
Guys are brilliant. Girls read better. Only children are pampered. Parents play an identifiable role in perpetuating stereotypes, be it about race, sibling status, or gender.
According to a study published in Science, “gender stereotypes about intellectual abilities arise early and influence children’s interests.” The researchers found that girls aged 6 and over associate high levels of intellectual abilities such as brilliance or ingenuity more with men than with women. The study explicitly notes that the 6-year-old girls stayed away from areas such as philosophy and physics, believing these areas are reserved for children who are “really, really smart” – that is, boys.
Parents’ gender stereotypes are important in maintaining gender gaps as they encourage the development of children’s beliefs about their competence, called intrinsic task value – the interest and joy students experience in doing a task – and the achievement, Dr. Francesca Muntoni and Jan Retelsdorf report in the journal Learning and Instruction.
Similarly, stereotypes about only children persisted for decades, partly because parents continued to accept them. When I wrote my first parenting book for an only child 30 years ago, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your Only One (updated in 2001), negative myths about only children were ingrained and compelling, influencing family planning decisions. It has been a long time to change people’s thinking.
One-Child Stereotypes: The Disappearing Act
Since 1896, when psychologist G. Stanley Hall described only children as selfish, spoiled, lonely, and bossy, unfounded and unflattering stereotypes have plagued only children and their parents. But today these stereotypes have largely disappeared.
The myths about just children have almost died out – especially only from children and their parents. Seldom do you hear unsavory comments about children now. If you do, they are likely coming from older generations – grandparents and great-grandparents.
Last year I asked nearly a hundred children of all ages (or their parents), “Did you feel stigmatized growing up?”
Laura, 29, replied: “Never. My mother made it her business – she was determined – that I would not be the spoiled only child. People were and still are surprised that I am an only child. As a teenager, I had two jobs. Even though my parents had the money, they made me work for what I wanted. I knew I could ask for something, but I also knew I had to save up for it. If I saved enough, they would give me the rest. ”
Laura’s mother, Robin, 65, grew up when the myths of only children were ubiquitous. But she didn’t buy them and wanted to make sure her child defied the stereotypes she’d heard. “I never wanted her to be the kid everyone said would get it all. That was my main goal. We were strict with Laura and had a lot of rules. ”
The only child, Jessica, 59, took up the “selfish stereotype”. “The only kids I know or grew up with either want to give you everything they have or say, ‘Don’t touch my things. ‘I was in the Don’t Touch My Things group, but my cousin, one of three, felt the same way. ”
18-year-old college student Carolyn said she knew there were only stereotypes about children, but said she didn’t fit any of them: “They had nothing to do with my upbringing. I am not selfish; I learned to share in preschool. ”
“When I was younger, I was alone when my parents were busy, and since they both have jobs, that happened a lot,” she says. “Over time I got used to it and learned to be more independent.” Somewhere in first grade, she says, she made it comfortable to do her homework and play alone.
Henry, a 38-year-old only child, says he didn’t feel stigmatized or labeled at all as an adult. “It never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with not having a sibling or that it was weird,” he told me.
Shannon, also 38, was unaware of the stigma of having an only child. Like others older and younger than her, she affirms, “I wasn’t aware of the stigmas just for children until I was well over 20 years old … but even then I knew the social beliefs that only children live , were wrong. ”
These comments from new generations of just children and parents with only children, ranging in age from toddler to adult, suggest that the negative stereotypes that were once reserved only for children have broken out. It’s been a tough road for many older generations, but the longstanding judgment and ingrained negativity that only surrounds children has gone. Parents of only children and only of children themselves have prevailed.
The birth rate has steadily declined, and families with just one child are on the rise. Having a child is the fastest growing family size. Today, men and women of childbearing potential say that child-only stereotypes do not play a role in their decisions about how many children to have. So many other factors play a role: raising older families, infertility barriers, inadequate or costly childcare, to name a few. Coupled with the labor force participation of women and the high cost of raising children, the pandemic is also having a profound and likely lasting impact on child birth.
In cities like Seattle, 47 percent of families have one child, and countries like Canada and England are already being referred to as one-child nations. It is clear that the one-child family, while not suitable for everyone, is becoming more common.
The antiquated myths have lost their ability to label just children or to convince people to have more children – indicating the widespread adoption and celebration of the one-child family.
Copyright @ 2021 by Susan Newman