Identifying Only Children in Four British Birth Cohort Studies, 2022

Goisis, Alice and Chanfreau, Jenny (2022). Identifying Only Children in Four British Birth Cohort Studies, 2022. [Data Collection]. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Service. 10.5255/UKDA-SN-855087

One child families are becoming more common in many advanced societies, including the UK. 18% of U.K. women who were born around 1970 had only one child, in contrast to 13% who were born around 1945 (i.e. their mothers' generation). Previous research suggests that despite strong negative stereotypes of only children (which characterize them as spoiled, overprotected and lonely due to lack of siblings), on average, only children do as well as children with few siblings and better than children from large families. However, existing evidence largely comes from U.S. research conducted during or before the 1980s and it is unclear whether it applies to current or past patterns in the U.K. since the context in which only child families are formed and their characteristics may vary over time and space. Moreover, very little is known about the longer-term well-being of only children and whether growing up without siblings may affect their life chances and well-being in older ages. To address these gaps in knowledge, I propose an innovative programme of research to study the effects of being an only child in childhood and adulthood in the UK. The project uses data from four UK longitudinal datasets: the 1946 National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD), the 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS), the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS) and the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) which follows a group of children born in 2000-2002. These are large surveys which follow the lives the cohort members from birth onwards. The project has four main objectives: 1) to analyse the socio-demographic characteristics of only children families and whether and how they have changed over time; 2) to compare the well-being (e.g. cognitive) of only children relative to the well-being of children growing up with siblings over time; 3) using data from the 1946, 1958 and 1970 cohort studies to analyse the social/demographic characteristics (e.g. education, fertility, partnership trajectories) and health of only children over the life course; 4) using data from the 1946 and 1958 cohort studies to analyse the well-being (e.g. health, social support, loneliness) of only children in older age. This is the first comprehensive project on the well-being of only children in the U.K. and it has the potential to make a significant contribution not only to the scientific literature but also to society as its findings will be immediately relevant to third sector organizations working with children and adults, government departments designing policies to improve the lives of troubled children and of older people at risk of loneliness and only children families themselves.

Data description (abstract)

Stata code to derive a variable to identify only children – i.e. individuals without siblings – in four British birth cohorts: • 1946 MRC National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) • 1958 National Child Development Study (NCDS) • 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70) • Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) Please see the accompanying documentation for a description of how we derived the only child indicator in each of the four studies.

Data creators:
Creator Name Affiliation ORCID (as URL)
Goisis Alice University College London
Chanfreau Jenny University College London
Sponsors: Economic and Social Research Council
Grant reference: ES/S002103/1
Topic classification: Demography (population, vital statistics and censuses)
Project title: Are only children all right? A cross-cohort analysis on the well-being of only children in the UK
Grant holders: Alice Goisis
Project dates:
February 2019July 2022
Date published: 09 Feb 2022 12:27
Last modified: 11 Feb 2022 08:59

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