On top of claims that an only child is spoilt and is at high risk of obesity, local research says children with no siblings are likely to struggle in school.
A team of psychiatrists says they have found evidence in local schools showing being an only child negatively affects academic performance.
“Having no sibling was a negative significant factor influencing academic performance,” says the new study.
The psychiatrists from the University of Nairobi and Daystar University investigated factors affecting academic performance among adolescents in private secondary schools.
The study in the African Journal of Clinical Psychology says they specifically targeted private schools because of their different social-economic characteristics compared to public schools.
The study involved 120 boys and girls aged 13 to 18 from non-mixed private secondary schools in Machakos County. A significant number of study participants did not have siblings.
Academic performance was highest among participants who had three and more siblings compared to those with one or two siblings. The lowest performance was recorded among singletons.
The psychiatrists; Rose Ngondi, Lincoln Khasakhala and Philemon Yugi, suggest the whole problem may be linked to family support and warmth that may come from siblings.
“Students without siblings could be devoid of sibling support and warmth that may ultimately decrease their sense of self-efficacy. This could have a negative impact on their academic performance.”
Working mothers and poor grades
Though they do not report a direct link between poor academic performances in only children and having a working mother, the latter had a negative effect on grades.
“Participants whose mothers’ were working were less likely to report higher academic grade in comparison to those whose mothers were not working.”
Mothers’ absence from home, the authors suggest, is likely to reduce quantity and quality of involvement with children in varied dimensions such as supervision, cognitive enrichment, love, and time spent together.
“Parental involvement in children’s academic activities has significant emotional and intellectual outcomes in children,” said the mental doctors.
Child and family “connectedness,” the team says, has the propensity towards higher academic performance.
Parents with only one child, the team suggests should create an environment for their children that will foster warmth, trust and support from their peers.
The study adds to increasing evidence that the shrinking family size also comes with new challenges.
In 2019, a landmark study at Louisiana State University, US, presented detailed scientific evidence showing only children were at high risk of obesity and overweight.
It found only children had unhealthy eating habits than those with brothers and sisters, and weighed more.
It concluded that families with multiple children tend to make healthier eating decisions than families with a single child.
It also found mothers of singletons were more likely to be obese themselves, but it also acknowledged not looking into the status of fathers or their eating habits.
“We actually, see a difference in the type of foods and drinks only child parents and those with more children bring or pack for their lunches,” said teacher Sicily, who works at a private primary school in Kitengela.
Children from multiple siblings’ households, she said are likely to get a healthier pack than singletons. The latter are likely to consume more of fast foods and sugary drinks.
An earlier study on obesity among Kenyan pre-school children found more overweight and obesity problems as families became smaller.
In the study, Prof Constance Gewa of George Mason University, US, said as more food becomes available for the smaller family, children were likely to run into obesity.
“Mother’s overweight and obesity were both associated with increased odds of the child being overweight or obese,” said Prof Gewa.
Well off women she suggests are more likely to have smaller families and the ability to choose what to eat and drink with a high risk of choosing the wrong foods.
“Higher-income may lead to increased access to more ‘higher status’ foods, which are often higher in sugar and fat content levels.”
Prof Gewa also suggests higher education and income in mothers comes with the spending more time outside the home, leaving little time to care for the children.
The singleton family, data shows is one of the fastest-growing family structure especially in developed countries.
Globally the average number of children per family is estimated to decline to below two children by the early years of this decade.
These changes, market research firm Euromonitor International says, are being influenced by declining fertility rates, the increasing number of women focusing on their careers and delaying births as well as an increasing cost of raising children.
The size of the Kenyan family has also shrunk significantly from about eight children per woman four decades ago to just about three today.
There are plans to go further down with the national population policy targeting at reducing this to two children per woman by 2050.
This ‘success’ though is not evenly distributed with huge differences across regions and even among individual women mainly based on education and income levels.
For example, data shows Kirinyaga County has the smallest family size in the country with women getting just about two children on average.
Other counties with low fertility rates, at least about three children include Nairobi Mombasa, Taita Taveta, Makueni, Machakos, Tharaka Nithi, and all parts of Central Kenya.
But even within these low fertility counties, wealthier and better-educated women are likely to have one to two children compared to larger families among poorer females.
“Women from wealthier households were less likely to transition from second to third births and from third to fourth births,” says Dr Andrew Kyalo Mutuku in an analysis of fertility in Kenya.
Dr Mutuku, a population expert and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, argued that the wealthier a woman is the less likely she is to get the next child.
As more women get educated and wealthier, the National Council for Population and Development says families will shrink, and the country needs to prepare for the transition ,” said Sicily.