China's 1-child generation stereotypes hit the mark
By Melissa Healy, Los Angeles Times/MCTChina's “Little Emperors” — the generations of only-children born under the government's rigid one-child policy — are living up to their name.
January 16, 2013, 12:00 am TWN
A study published Thursday in the journal Science has found that compared with two groups of people born in the years before China launched its harsh population-control policy, those born after were less conscientious, more risk-averse and less inclined to compete with — or cooperate with — others.
In short, a nation forged by collectivism, hard work and deprivation has created a generation of young adults that could be its undoing.
In China, the legions of children who commanded the undivided attention and resources of their parents have long been viewed with suspicion. But as they matured into adulthood, the “Little Emperors” could afford to roll their eyes at their fretting elders: Western research has consistently shown that only-children — singletons, as demographers call them — are no more selfish, lazy or maladjusted than their peers with siblings.
But China's elders, apparently, were right.
Initiated in 1979, the one-child initiative has had its most dramatic effects in families living in China's populous urban centers, such as Beijing and Shanghai. These children are likely to make up the vanguard of the country's future government and business elites, experts say, so their psychological and behavioral attributes are a matter of national — and international — importance.
As the “Little Emperors” grew from toddlerhood to adolescence, studies largely failed to document what grandparents, teachers and eventually employers would come to believe with absolute conviction: that the sons and daughters of the one-child policy were spoiled, selfish and lazy. At urban job fairs and in help-wanted ads, employers have been known to discourage singletons from applying. A group of delegates to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference called on the government to scrap its one-child policy in 2007, citing “social problems and personality disorders in young people.”
The mismatch between widespread attitudes in China and hard data from researchers was a puzzle to a pair of economists at Australia's Monash University — one of whom emigrated from China and has a single daughter born there under the one-child policy.
Lisa Cameron and Xin Meng set out to capture changes wrought by the one-child policy with a battery of economic games designed to measure a player's propensity toward altruism, trust, competitiveness and risk-taking.
Cameron and Xin recruited 215 people born in 1975 and 1978, before the policy began, and 208 people born in 1980 and 1983, after the policy was implemented. Among the older group, 55 percent had at least one sibling, compared with 15 percent in the younger group.