In the aftermath of the one-child policy in China (1979-2016) having been implemented over 30 years, some researchers found that only-children performed better academically. While most of these studies focused on only-children in urban China, Shi and colleagues conducted a study to investigate the sibling effect on rural children’s academic outcomes.
Conversely to an urban area, families in rural China tend to have more children than their urban counterparts. Moreover, along with the national one-child policy, the “One-Son-Two-Kids” rule allowed rural couples to have a second child if the first one was a girl, due to cultural preference to have a son in the family. Families with one child only, therefore, were not common in rural areas.
The study was conducted in 2018. After a recruiting process, 156 grade 9 only-children from 102 classes were identified. For each only-child, one peer with sibling(s) was randomly selected from the same class. In total, 156 only-children (65.4% boys) and 156 non-only children (41.7%% boys) were sampled for the study. Students’ academic performance was evaluated using the Chinese version of the PISA Math, Reading, and Science test (2015). Below, the results using Ordinary Least Square regression analysis are shown.
- No significant difference was found in Reading and Science scores between the only-child group and the non-only child group.
- Only-children performed significantly lower than non-only peers with a small effect size in Math scores (ES = 0.11).
- Other findings: poor eyesight would impede the result of the three tests, while parents’ academic expectation could enhance students’ scores on all three tests.
In view of the finding that only-children did not perform better than children with siblings in rural areas, authors speculated that this might be caused by Chinese parental preference of sons and the only male child might be more likely to be spoiled. In the study, 65.4% of only-children were boys.
Source: Shi, J., Li, L., Wu, D., & Li, H. (2021). Are only children always better? Testing the sibling effects on academic performance in rural Chinese adolescents. Children and Youth Services Review, 131, 106291. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2021.106291