UT researchers find China’s One-Child policy has psychological benefits

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Sophia Yang Hooper, left, and Toni Falbo, right, conducted a study on China’s one-child policy and its effects on mental health.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Christina S. Murrey

Children born in China without siblings have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to research published by faculty in the department of educational psychology.

The study, published by educational psychology professor Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Yang Hooper, focuses on the benefits to the mental health of children born after China’s One-Child Policy. Hooper was born in China after the One-Child Policy was established and has no siblings.

“Growing up, I’ve always been interested in how different life would be with siblings,” Hooper said. “That’s why I was interested in exploring the psychological differences between only children and non-only children in China.”

Effective since 1979, the policy sought to reduce the population growth rate and expand the economy. The policy was not intended for everyone in China, however, as many rural families have been allowed to have another child especially if the firstborn is a girl.

Falbo said social class is a main factor that differentiated only children who attended college from those who went into the military. Parents with one child often reported having higher education and more resources to raise their children. As a result, children who entered the military reported having more symptoms of psychological disorder.

Falbo specializes in only-child research, and Hooper assisted by accessing existing literature written in Chinese for the study, Falbo said.

“There was a lot of information not available to English-speaking scholars,” Falbo said. “With the help of [Hooper], we were able to [access] many articles published in Chinese.”

Shengjie Lin, a third-year doctoral student in educational psychology, said although the policy permits a couple to have a second child if the husband or wife is an only child, many decide not to.

“The interesting thing is that many of them don’t want a second child, mostly because of expensive education,” Lin, who also grew up in China, said. “Chinese people really pay attention to education.”

Hooper said despite the research’s findings, she thinks many families would still prefer to have multiple children.

“China [needs to adopt] this policy to make sure they don’t have too many people,” Lin said. “But most people would prefer and it’s better for families to have
multiple children.”

Hooper said she would personally would want to have more than one child.

“I don’t want my children to grow up alone,” Hooper said. “It’s always nice to have people to play with.”