Journalist Sandler (Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, 2006), an only child and mother of one, examines research, literature and anecdotal accounts on “singletons” who have been maligned as lonelier, less social and more troubled than peers raised with siblings.
The author also surveys attitudes toward parents of such children, who were often thought to be wealthier and more selfish. Through articles in popular magazines, current views in psychology, personal observations, interpretations of biographies on famous political and cultural figures, interviews, an 1895 study by Granville Stanley Hall, Of Peculiar and Exceptional Children, and other sources, Sandler discovered little evidence supporting the pervasive, negative perception of only children. She also found that contradicting studies, which revealed only children to be more successful, with higher self-esteem and better self-adjustment, remained largely unnoticed. The most intriguing section of the book features research on children born in China’s one-child–policy environment; less compelling chapters consider family size from demographic and economic perspectives, both in Europe and the U.S., with the expected conclusion that few, if any, adults base their consideration of whether or not to have additional children on larger trends. The author's take on this controversial subject, which emphasizes the positives of raising one child, may be misread as an attempt to justify her lifestyle, but she does not criticize those who do choose larger families (some of whom she explores in a chapter on Christian evangelicals). Sandler also carefully notes her own occasional ambivalence. Though it’s not likely to sway those readers who believe strongly in having multiple children, the author’s argument dispels stereotypes of "onlies" and raises provocative questions about the American tendency toward prioritizing and even elevating parenthood over relationships, individuality, social networks and other aspects of adulthood, sometimes to the detriment of the family.
Recommended as an alternative perspective on an often emotionally fraught discussion.