Fanfare for the only child

The Takeaway

This story was originally covered by PRI’s The Takeaway. For more, listen to the audio above.

The birthrate in the United States plummeted during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and again during the oil crisis of the 1970s. Experts believe the birthrate may drop again during the current recession, with many parents deciding that they can’t afford more children.

“One child presents great advantages,” Susan Newman, author of the book “Parenting an Only Child” told PRI’s The takeaway, “because parents can focus their resources, their time, their energy on one, and be less conflicted about their jobs, about taking a second maternity leave in a country where maternity leave policies are terrible.”

A child born right now will cost his or her parents more than $280,000 through high school, according to Newman, and that doesn’t include college. That may be the reason why 64 percent of women say they can’t afford to have another child right now, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher institute.

Parents may still feel pressured to have more than one child, Lauren Sandler told The Takeaway, in spite of the recession. There’s the religious pressure of “be fruitful and multiply,” an evolutionary pressure to have more children and the belief that only children are often maladjusted, unsocial and lonely.

In realty, “a child doesn’t have to have a sibling to develop into a compassionate, healthy, wonderful adult,” according to Sandler. In an interview with PRI’s Here and Now, Sandler cites studies suggesting that the only real difference between only children and children with siblings is in self esteem and achievement, where only children actually tend to do better.

“If anxiety is driving why we have more children, it’s worth it to focusing on whether that anxiety is founded,” Sandler told The Takeaway. Parents right now are fighting with both a prejudice against only children, and economic pressures that make having children difficult. According to Sandler, “I think that if we are going to be honest about what we want our lives to look like, we need to shift this conversation a little bit.”

“The Takeaway” is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what’s ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at

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