War of Ideas

Empire of the sons (and daughters)

Economists and psychologists have fretted since the 1980s that China’s one-child policy is creating a generation of “little emperors” — millions upon millions of pampered only children. But just how do you go about measuring the creation of an entire generation of spoiled brats? In a new study published in Science, a group of Australian ...

Asia Images/Getty Images
Asia Images/Getty Images

Economists and psychologists have fretted since the 1980s that China’s one-child policy is creating a generation of “little emperors” — millions upon millions of pampered only children. But just how do you go about measuring the creation of an entire generation of spoiled brats? In a new study published in Science, a group of Australian economists ran common behavioral-economics tests on Beijing residents born in the years just before 1979, when the one-child policy went into effect, and the years just afterward, when the proportion of only children reached 91 percent. Only children, not surprisingly, end up more selfish and less well-adjusted.

On the other hand, the only-child participants outperformed their elders on a test of math ability.

Kid – siblings = algebra whiz?

Note: This post originally ran in Foreign Policy‘s May/June 2013 issue.  

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