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How Being an Only Child Impacts Your Success in Business and Life Dr. Brittany McGeehan, a licensed psychologist based in Frisco, Texas, delves into the family dynamics that shape who we become.

By Amanda Breen Edited by Jessica Thomas

Key Takeaways

  • Only children are not necessarily more narcissistic; personalities vary depending on parenting style and social interactions.
  • Only children have the potential for success but face unique challenges, such as teamwork and coping with being raised as "the center of the world."

Have you ever wondered how birth order impacts success in business and life?

Whether you're the oldest, middle, youngest or only child, your position within the family does affect your upbringing and future — though to an extent that varies considerably depending on individual circumstances.

Only children, once rarer, are becoming more common, the BBC reported last year: In 2015, 18% of mothers "near the end of their childbearing years" had one child compared to just 10% of mothers in 1976.

Related: How Being the Oldest Child Impacts Your Success in Business and Life

Although raising an only child might not be as unusual as it once was, it's certainly not without its misconceptions or critics. "In the cultural consciousness, only children are frequently pegged as weirdos: maladjusted, selfish, spoiled, uncompromising, or just unusually precocious," The Atlantic reported in 2022.

Current research reveals some mixed results regarding just how different only children are from their counterparts who have siblings. Although a recent study found that only children aren't more narcissistic than those with brothers and sisters, another from 2016 determined that only children tend to be less agreeable.

Related: How Being the Middle Child Impacts Your Success in Business and Life

Entrepreneur sat down with Dr. Brittany McGeehan, a licensed psychologist based in Frisco, Texas, who specializes in working with high-achieving women, to unpack how being an only child can influence success in business and life.

"Sometimes they present a little bit more as a first child, but then sometimes they present a little bit more as like a last child."

"So these are kind of like a roll-the-dice in my experience because sometimes they present a little bit more as a first child, but then sometimes they present a little bit more as like a last child," McGeehan says.

Oldest siblings are often "natural-born leaders" who exhibit reliability in adulthood and may burn out easily if they're not practiced in setting boundaries, while youngest siblings are typically willing to go after what they want but might have issues with structure and critical feedback as adults if they were raised with a particularly relaxed parenting style, according to McGeehan.

Related: How Being the Youngest Child Impacts Your Success in Business and Life

Generally speaking, with each of those paths available to them, the one only children take can actually have a lot to do with why they're only children in the first place. If parents made a "very intentional decision" to have just one and focus their resources and attention on that child, that child will likely not only be in touch with their senses of adventure and self, but they'll also be able to thrive in structured environments, McGeehan explains.

However, if only children interact mostly with caregivers as opposed to kids their own age, that could lead to struggles with their peers — that continue into adulthood. "Then that shows up in the boardroom 100% later on in life," McGeehan says. "[They're] not used to playing in the sandbox with other friends. [They] have a very hard time functioning on a team."

Related: Can Birth Order Determine Success or Failure? Science Says Maybe So.

And being raised as if they're "the center of the world" can also have long-term consequences.

"[If they're] given whatever [they] want, then [with] those children, we absolutely see a lot of failure to thrive," McGeehan says.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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