‘Little Emperors’: One Child Policy produces less trusting, more pessimistic adults, finds study
January 10, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – “Little Emperors.” That’s what the generation of only-children born under China’s One Child Policy have been called by Chinese media and sociologists.
The label isn’t a complimentary one, referring to concerns that in the absence of siblings, China’s younger generations are growing up spoiled by doting parents and grandparents. China Daily has dubbed the demographic the “spoiled generation.”
And according to the authors of a new study that attempted to put this stereotype to the test, these concerns may well be valid.
The study, published this week in Science, found that children born after the implementation of the One Child Policy are significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious individuals than those born before.
If the findings hold true on a national scale, say the researchers, they could point to significant negative consequences for China.
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The One Child Policy was introduced in 1979 and has been strictly enforced using often-brutal methods such as forced abortion, forced sterilization, and crippling fines.
Researchers recruited 421 subjects from Beijing born shortly before and shortly after the One Child Policy was implemented. The subjects answered personality surveys and were put through a series of economic games that were designed to test personality traits such as risk-taking and trustworthiness in a laboratory setting.
Professor Lisa Cameron of the Monash Centre for Development Economics said that the negative effects were noted whether the single children had significant contact with peers or not.
“We found that greater exposure to other children in childhood – for example, frequent interactions with cousins and/or attending childcare – was not a substitute for having siblings,” Professor Cameron said. She speculated that in the case of children with siblings, opportunities to learn to work together and to build trust “arise naturally.”
However, she added, “There is some evidence that parents can influence their children’s behavior by encouraging pro-social values.”
The researcher also noted that the findings were more stark than she expected. “Largely [the study] mapped into what we expected, although we were surprised by the magnitude and the strength,” she said.
The researchers also considered a number of possible other factors such as participants’ age and whether they might have become more capitalistic over time to explain the findings, but concluded that the One Child Policy best explained the results.
As well as the obvious social implications of the study, the researchers said the results of the study may have economic implications.
“Our data show that people born under the One Child Policy were less likely to be in more risky occupations like self-employment. Thus there may be implications for China in terms of a decline in entrepreneurial ability,” Professor Cameron said.
Critics of the One Child Policy argue have long pointed to the long-term negative effects of the policy, both social and economic. With hundreds of millions of Chinese either aborted or never having been born since the late 70s, the country is now facing an underpopulation crisis, with a large number of aging and elderly Chinese being supported by a dwindling number of young workers.
As well, the traditional preference for boys in China’s culture has led to a dramatic gender imbalance, which is in turn leading to negative consequences such as a rise in human trafficking.
But despite recent reports that the Chinese government may be considering easing up on the policy, experts on human rights in China are not convinced. Activist Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights without Frontiers told LifeSiteNews.com in November that she believes the One Child Policy will not end until the Chinese Communist Party’s regime ends.
Littlejohn said that in the beginning the policy had been “genuinely instituted” as a way to control the population. But now, she said, the “terror” involved in enforcing the law has become an integral part of the Party’s approach to staying in power.
“I don’t think that they will be abandoning the one-child policy anytime soon,” she said.