China’s One-Child Policy creates a generation of “Little Emperors”

China’s contentious one-child policy has produced a generation of untrusting and over-sensitive “Little Emperors”, new research has found.

In 1979, the Chinese Government banned couples from having more than one child as a means of combating runaway population growth.

“We found that individuals who grew up as single children as a result of China¹s one-child policy are significantly less trusting, less trustworthy, more risk-averse, less competitive, more pessimistic, and less conscientious,” said Associate Professor Nisvan Erkal from the Department of Economics within the Faculty.

“Only-children normally come about as a result of their parents’ decision not to have another baby, but for the Chinese this decision was made for them.

“This unique situation allows us to analyse the traits of these children regardless of their family background, and compare them with other only-children.”

The study Little Emperors: Behavioral Impacts of China¹s One-Child Policy appears in the current edition of the Science, and is based on research by Associate Professor Erkal  (University of Melbourne), Professors Lisa Cameron and Lata Gangadharan (Monash University) and Professor Xin Meng (ANU).

The researchers recruited about 400 Beijing residents who were born just before and immediately after the implementation of the one-child policy.

They used a series of ‘economic games’ – in which participants exchange or invest small amounts of money, or make various other economic decisions – to measure participants levels of trust, risk-taking and competitiveness.

Personality surveys also revealed ‘only children’ who grew up after the one-child policy was implemented were commonly less optimistic, more sensitive or nervous, and less conscientious.

“We did analyse other factors that might have explained this shift, including the participant’s age, marital status and growing exposure to capitalism,” Associate Professor Erkal said..

“But we found that being born before or after the one-child policy best explains our observations.”

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