Does family size effect children’s development?

The topic within psychology that interest me most is Child Psychology and how children develop. It interests me that all children are so different even within the same families, when they have similar genes and similar atmosphere to grow up. The question I will look into is whether children from larger families get more advantage or disadvantages than children from smaller sized families.

I recently read a journal by Black, Devereux and Salvanes (2005) regarding whether the size of families effects children’s education and their intellectual development. The study showed a negative correlation between them which means that the fact that children grow up in larger families effect negatively on their education. Booth and Kee (2005) say that this is because if there are many siblings it is impossible to provide as much resources which will assign them from their educational potential. A research from Elder (1963) discovered that children from larger families could be effected emotionally too. This case showed that ‘paternal involvement and external behaviour control would occur more often in large families than in small.”

I remember reading a book when I was studying Child Development for GCSE called Child Care and Development (2001) and it said that there are three types of children that stands out in a crowd – the only child, a child from a family of more than four children and the middle child within a family of three. “Children with no siblings are neurotic, self-centred, unable to tolerate frustration, non-competitive, demanding and hypochondriacally” shows the study from Arlow (1972).

On the other hand, children from larger families has more responsibilities at home which will help them grow in self-knowledge and self-confidence and matureness. This will develop their understanding of morality. They are less likely not to focus on themselves but on others around them. As they have many sibling to talk and play with the will be stimulated intellectually at all times which could effect positively on their intellectual development. Even though sibling rivalry may occur oftener, this will teach them about sharing, fairness and forgiveness. They may have different interests which will develop them socially and they will be more willing to get on with everyone. The parents may be less able to provide time and money for each child but the children will learn what’s important in life and will be more eager to work for themselves in the future. It’s also an amazing opportunity for parents to be part of such families and the chance of being lonely is decreased because of all the support that surrounds them.

A child’s position within a family also effects on the child’s development and in the long term is reflects on their personalities. The famous letter Erma Bombeck (1971) claims to include the typical behaviour of the middle child. Here is a paragraph from the book :

“To the middle child…
I’ve always loved you the best because you drew the dumb spot in the family and it made you stronger for it.
You cried less, had more patience, wore faded and never in your life did anything “first,” but it only made you more special. You are the one we relaxed with and realized a dog could kiss you and you wouldn’t get sick. You could cross the street by yourself long before you were old enough to get married, and the world wouldn’t come to an end if you went to bed with dirty feet.
You were the continuance.”

If you would like to read the full letter, visit –

Personally, I think that the size of families do effect on child’s development but people are more likely to give their opinion based on their own experience. Every family are different and would be likely to prove their own advantages and disadvantages. What do you think?


11 thoughts on “Does family size effect children’s development?

  1. I agree with you that opinions are based on own personal experience. I am a twin and therefore have shared attention throughout my life. I have no other siblings but from personal experience I believe that the age gaps between siblings may affect child development. For example if two siblings are born e.g. 1-2 years between them, the attention on the two have to be split. Advantages: Have to learn to be equal, develop through social interaction, ability to share etc. Disadvantages: Could argue that the youngest of the two would get more attention. Also if there are years between siblings you could argue that the youngest child would benefit of social interaction- but would tend to take a lot of attention and possibly turn into more of a selfish, spoilt child.

    Even though this paper is quite old- the contents of it is very interesting:

    Also this is connected to impact of size of family on child mortality:

    Well done on the blog- very intesersting. Sioned 🙂

  2. This was an interesting read as I have not looked into much child psychology. I don’t think the size of families should be the only reason as to why children differ. Some parents can favour one child to the other causing much rivalry. Other parents may take the time to ensure they have one to one time with each time – despite being five children.

    I am an only child and I must admit I disagree with the quote from Child Development (2001). I am certainly very competitive and have difficulty hiding that fact. I’d like to say that I am not self-centered either, even as I child I used to be very good at sharing. I suppose you should ask that question to people around me like my family, friends and possibly teachers rather than myself.

    I firmly believe a chil’d development is to do solely with the way their parents brought them up. Parents can interact with them as though they are another child, e.g. teaching them to share and not purposely letting them win games, thus not developing stereotypical bad habbits. Also, I think other factors can influence a child’s personality more than the amount of siblings they have. If a child has been in and out of foster care surely that would have more of an effect on their personality? Perhaps their parents living appart would have a similar affect.

    Having said all this I have not read into much research and am only using personal expreience. I will look more into child psychology to gain a better understanding. Good blog!

  3. Meleri, a lovely blog which is correct in my opinion. I am also very interested in Educational Psychology and Child Psychology so I’ve related well to your blog!

    I am from a family where I only have one sister, and have always had to share with her and have always been competitive and have had to be really understanding towards some situations.

    I may have a bias opinion on this matter as each single child I have come across have been selfish to some extent, but I cannot fault them as it could merely be the way they’ve been bought up. I’m not saying that by being an only child they are destined to be selfish, but they have not had to share attention with anybody else. I was extremely jealous when my mum was pregnant with my sister and managed to put myself into hospital three times – I was six. This shows that even at a young age you can get jealous of having to share your parents’ attention. I’m not in any way implying that being a single child is a bad thing, but the ones who I’ve grown up with can be self-centred and wanting all of the attention on them, even if they did not intend on doing so. This is from my personal experience but having your book support my opinion is good.

    Delyth, I can relate to what you are saying about other factors having an affect on a child’s behaviour, I believe this goes without saying. I do not know if I agree on what you’re saying about having seperated parents though, but this might be my bias opinion yet again! My parents have split since I was 18 months – and I dont believe it’s had an affect on me personally; but saying this, maybe the older the child is at the seperation, the harder it may be to cope.

    Looking forward to the next blog, well done 😀

  4. This was a very interesting read and I have not really got an opinion on whether family size affects children’s development. Some could argue that family size does affect children’
    development as one child families could give the only child more attention and more resources. Children in small schools usually have more attention from the teachers as they have less children to teach. Ofsted (the official body for inspecting schools) reported that small primary schools, on average, gain better test results than primary schools with more than 100 pupils. This supports the idea that family size affects children’s development.

    I do not agree with the quote from Child Development (2001). Only children are associated with nasty stereotypes that they are spoiled, selfish and attention seeking but I believe this is only a matter of opinion and experience. Some only children do fit in to that stereotype, but some children from large families do too.

    Large families can have benefits because siblings have someone to play with, talk to, teach and learn from. Siblings can also teach each other conflict resolutions which can be advantageous in everyday life. They can grow to be less self-oriented than only children as they have been brought up with having to share their parents’ attention. I agree with you that it can be very beneficial for some children from large families as they have more responsibilities at home. However, children can be very expensive, and having many children in a low income family can have a great effect on their development.

  5. I also think that there is an effect on whether a child has many siblings or not and this effect is negative the more siblings there are. What do you think Meleri, is the effect negative or positive? Firstly, the fact that there are more siblings to feed, clothes and house means that there are more financial problems that arise (Iacovou & Berthoud, 2006). This fact in turn means that children with these hardships perform worse at school and at IQ tests (Blake, 1989).

    A study by Lawson and Mace (2009) was very interesting as they were looking at the correlation of mental health and the number of siblings. There was no effect shown that mental health was affected with how many brothers or siters you have. What does have an effect is where you fall in the birth order of your family. Whether you are the first, last, middle child and so on. The later-child is at more of a disadvantage than anyone else in the family.

    One major contributing factor to the devolopment in children is the amount of time and commitment the parents give to their child. This commitment is considered to be more important for child wellbeing than the parenting style even (Maccoby, 1992). Parents need to allocate a lot of time for their children eve it is with every child at one time. One thing that did catch my eye as well was a study by Mammen (2011) that said that fathers spent more with their children if one of them were a son.

  6. Yes, I do agree with your blog. From my personal experience I tend to believe that the middle child does get less attention. I have a younger brother which is two years younger than me and I believe that he sometimes get more attention. For some time now there has been a multidisciplinary interest in the effects of family size on children’s development and on their overall life outcomes. In general, available evidence indicates that children from small families tend to accrue advantages in many developmental areas, while children from larger families are, as a group, relatively disadvantaged. There is growing evidence that even when the social class of families is accounted for, children from smaller families fare better on many measures of development than those from large families. Children from smaller families perform better on tests of intellectual ability than children from large families. Efforts to understand why family size should affect intellectual performance have intensified in recent years. Many explanations have been offered, but the explanation termed the “confluence model” has attracted the most interest and controversy. According to this model, a child’s intellectual development is a function of the intellectual environment provided by the family. There four, children from larger families grow up in a less enriched environment and tend to perform less well on measures of ability. A 2nd component of the confluence model is necessary to explain the phenomenon that “only” children fail to perform as well as might be expected on intelligence tests. According to the confluence model, the only child discontinuity results from the absence of an opportunity to tutor younger siblings. Available evidence indicates that family size exerts an effect on educational and occupational achievement over and above its effect on ability. A multidisciplinary explanation for the findings on family size suggests that family resources become “diluted” as family size increases and the result is the various developmental deficits reported by researchers. In sum, there is substantial documentation indicating that children from small families have a better developmental prognosis than children with many siblings. In the aggregate, these effects could have a substantial impact on the quality of a country’s citizenry.

    Well Done 🙂

  7. I agree that family size could have an effect on intellectual development but i dont think it is a direct affect. i believe that because there is more than one child there is a chance that the parent would have a favourite child and therefore that child may get more attention and therefore have a better intellectual development. I also have to disagree with the ‘child care and development’ book (2001) a single child is ‘self-centred’ and ‘demanding’ i think that characteristics like these come either from personality type, or is learned by parents. i believe that parents can teach their children to share and be kind regardless of family size.

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  9. I come from a family of 6 children, I am number three and I am also the only boy. Though I never shared materialistic things, often times I was left out or alone on family things because it was mostly female interest. As time passed I also noticed the as the older two left and I grew up my mother became extremely lax with the younger ones however treated me the same as when she was very strict and enforced the rules of the household. Often times I would be frustrated by the carelessness of the young ones and my mother. However I have learned the importance of consistency in parenting and remaining constant in decisions for all the kids. We can’t get tired of parenting and become lax for the young of the children just because it is easier.

  10. It sounds as if the book Child Development for GCSE called Child Care and Development (2001) is hugely bias against only children and in favor of large families. I have never read such a bias before. And in modern times, within in big cities there’s an increase in only children. Although I agree with the oldest, middle and youngest dynamics, these studies that show demanding unbalanced only children sounds like an outdated 50s stereotype. Large families do not always function well, the added pressure on the eldest to become a near parent caring for their siblings has been studied. on top of that parents do not always have time to spend on each child. because the children learn from each other, academically and intellectually children from large families can be at a disadvantage as parents may not have time to spend teaching them or forming close relationships. Of course these are generalisations, I know several friends from large families who have been very successful in their careers, as well as quite a few friends from large families who have not and are fairly improvished, lacking motivation to succeed.

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