The Case for Having Only One Child

Several weeks ago, I gave George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan’s book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids a look. Caplan offered go-against-the-grain opinions as to why he thinks it’s a fabulous idea to go forth and multiply and have more than just two kids.


Soon after my column was published, I heard from social psychologist Susan Newman whose new book, The Case for the Only Child offers up her own challenge-the-conventional-wisdom take, suggesting that for many families, having one child is not only the right decision but the better one. So, to be fair, I gave Newman’s book a look because the topic of family size, apparently, is a highly charged one that seems to put everybody on the defensive.


One-child families are evolving into the “New Traditional Family,” Newman, the mother of one, asserted, citing U.S. Census data indicating that one-child families are “growing at a faster rate than families with two children.” Why is this happening? A whole bunch of reasons, chief among them, Newman said, is the hefty sticker price (she labeled offspring as “big-ticket” items), “the desire to be model parents, the demands and stress of children on their parents.”


“When men and women were asked why they limited their family’s size, 56 percent of women and 40 percent of men said the reason was the stress of raising children,” Newman wrote. She quoted a mother of one who decided that her friends who had more than one child weren’t as blissful as she: “Children are supposed to bring parents happiness; then I looked at the hectic lives my friends led with more than one child and said, ‘not for me.’ I’m a big advocate for stopping at one.”


In this bleak economy, you also can’t discount the impact that having a child has on a woman’s career, particularly if she has multiple children, requiring multiple leaves of absence, Newman said: “Mothers pay a much greater price than fathers in terms of [the] stress and overwork that comes with raising a family. Women, as the declining fertility rates suggest, continue to think about what it means for them to have a second child.”


With just one kid, parents can “provide the best for children in time, attention and educational opportunities,” Newman wrote.


But parents have to get to the point where they feel comfortable with that decision, something which Newman hopes her book will help them do, particularly when the folks considering having a single child are slammed with not only pressure and guilt from family and friends to have more, but are told that singletons will somehow be damaged by being raised alone. “With pressure coming at you from many directions, deciding to stop at one child can be wrenching - sometimes a harder choice than just giving in and having another child,” said Newman. “The decision is no simpler when faced with long-held stigmas about only children.”



As you say, the decision to have no child, one child or a bunch is up to each couple — there's no right or wrong.

But since about half of all marriage end in divorce, the only child may have a bit of a challenge, as I wrote about on the Huffington Post,, should his or her parents split.


I have three kids and I am an only child. My oldest is almost 7 years older than my twins. I really didnt like being an only child. I wanted more children because because I didnt want my son to be an only child and as I get closer to 40 I have noone. My kids have no aunt and uncles and no cousins. I know my parents only had one because they struggled financially and Im not rich but I think its more than just looking at the financial aspect that is important. It is really hard to be an only child and I didnt fully realize that until my college years.


Haven't read either book, curious to know if either author brings up the subject of growing old with or w/out a sibling. The main reason why we chose to have a 2nd child was so that our first born would always have someone to share her life with whether we're in it or not. Some will argue that not all siblings end up liking each other in the end, but honestly I think that has a lot to do with how we raise our children/family values. Personally I couldn’t imagine being in this world without the unconditional love from my brother, even though we only speak about once a month. He’s my go-to person when I need to download whatever is going on in my life.


I agree that the number of children you have is a personal decision. It is a multi-faced and complicated one.

The number of children there are in the world, where they are in the world, and how it affects the world is an even deeper issue.

But I think the most important issue of all is how conduct ourselves. Our actions inform and teach others how to be.

We are all in world this together. I daily remind myself to both be the change I want to see and to act "as if".

Thanks for your post!
I would love to hear more on forming workable playgroups. Because I do worry that my only-child needs more child interactions.

Lisa LeMone

Thank you for posting this. I have one child, a daughter, whom I had fairly late in life. I didn't meet my husband until my late 30's and when we tried to have children, we discovered it wasn't going to be as easy as we thought. After almost 5 years of fertility / infertility treatments, we were blessed with a healthy, beautiful baby girl, whom we cherish. Still my husband wanted another child, but I wasn't up to it emotionally or physically (I was diagnosed with a rare cancer when my daughter was 18 months old. Fortunately, I won the cancer battle). It was the most difficult decision for me to make not to have more children, but I felt it was the best decision for our family. Quality of life over quantity of children. Thanks again for posting.


Ok, she totally lost me at 'children are supposed to bring parents happiness.' Really? So like she was bored and depressed so she had a kid? Now, trust me my kids bring my tons of joy but they also bring tons of heartache. And yes I have 3 so I suppose the heartache is multiplied but I was an only child and I brought my mom plenty of heartache. I just think this statement sounds like children are some expensive form of entertainment and anyone who has kids with this attitude is screwed from the start!