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The global fertility rate is plummeting creating social and economic challenges. Throughout the years, a family has been a core support for the household. The results of short-term oriented family policies pressure future generation with a growing aging population and one child households. Moreover, the maturity time will be stretched as with the drop of siblings. This article discusses the future of siblings.
Benefits of siblings
While the number of children in the family has an economic impact, the social effect of one-child-family can be more drastic in the longer term. The global fertility rate has been on a constant decline since the mid-1960s and has fallen from 5.1 to 2.4 children per mother within 5 decades. While developing regions like Africa and the Middle East have relatively high fertility rates with 4.7 and 2.8 respectively, the developed nations are below replacement fertility having on average a rate of 1.5. UN reports that in the most countries in Europe and Nothern America there is fewer than three person per household. Theory of mind refers to a child’s ability to understand that other people have different knowledge, beliefs, emotions, and intentions. Also, it describes the ability to use this information in social situations. The more siblings, especially older, a child has, the better they are at handling themselves in the community and, consequently, better leaders they are. However, shrinking families do not necessarily mean that global emotional intelligence will fall. According to research, it rather signals that emotional intelligence will mature at the later age than for the previous generations. Moreover, in addition to research that highlights the benefits of siblings, a study from Utrecht University suggests that siblings provide as much social and emotional support as friends do. Thus, there have to be the systems and processes in place to create early communication opportunities for children. As a result, having a sibling may not be necessary in order to ensure emotional and social development.
Currently, 46% of the world’s population lives in countries where women have on average less than 2.1 children. It results with a blended perception of the close family borders. For instance, in China, even the distant cousins are seen as siblings. As sociologist Vanessa Fong explains the concept: “They’d [Chinese teenagers] say, ‘Well, yes, I have many brothers and sisters.’ And I’d say, ‘How did that happen? Most people have no siblings.’ And they’d say, ‘Oh, I’m talking about my aunts’ children’.” This perception suggests that people can share their social learning path not only with their sibling but also with other relatives.
How to fill in a sibling-shaped hole?
Even robots could fill in the place of a biological sibling. iPal is a robot made by AvatarMind that acts as a friend and family member to children. It is the size of a five year old that can offer education and company to lonely children. Parents can even monitor their children from afar through the device as well as talk to their child. However, as robots do not provide their own opinion but instead are always submissive, can children learn the basics of realistic human interaction from them?
Why only one child?
As a study by the US Department of Agriculture from 2015 showed, parenthood can be expensive. An American child costs on average 233,610 USD to their parents from birth to the age of 17. This included housing, food, childcare, education, clothing, health care, and transportation costs. The price of a child, however, depends on how the welfare system of a country works. In Finland, for instance, children get to complete their entire compulsory education for free, including textbooks and lunch. Additionally, municipal health care is very low priced. However, Finland’s fertility rate is only 1.49, which suggests that having a better and cheaper welfare system does not imply that the fertility rate of that country would be higher.
The number of children in a family is not always the choice of the parents. For over 30 years, China has been limiting the number of children down to one per family. However, according to All-China Women’s Federation, even after dropping this policy, over 53.3% of Chinese couples with one child did not want another. Their key reason was that they would not be able to afford a good enough quality of educational and medical services for both of the children. A Chinese woman, Ge Yang, told BBC: “It is not that we don’t want to raise more children, it is that we cannot create that many opportunities for them. If I cannot create that much opportunity for my children, I think that my children will feel lost in competition against other children.”
Where the previous fear was the cost of feeding an enormous population, the policy has, in turn, resulted in a drastic ageing of the population. Even though the one-child policy was dropped, the new legislation requires women to have two children by the age of 50, or else be faced with a fine. Thus, as a result of the new family structure that now contains siblings, the social intelligence of the nation will be redefined in the future due to advanced learning of the theory of mind.
Baby design pressure
Having no siblings can be a heavy burden for an only child. For parents, deciding to have only one child can result in trying to make the child perfect and offer them the best chances at life they can. When parents have planned out their child’s life before they are even born, this causes tremendous pressure on the child to become exactly what their parents expect as they grow up. Ge Yang tells about her single child experience: “If my parents had had other children, they would have paid less attention to me, in which case I might have spent more time and energy doing things that interest me. Chinese parents of my parents’ generation like to plan a life for their children.” Additionally, single children have the full responsibility of taking care of their parents rather than having the option of sharing the responsibility with siblings.
Gene editing is not yet allowed, but it could be used in the future to change a human embryo’s genome to give them qualities and traits their parents want. On the one side, there are situation facing people with inherited genetic conditions which technologies like CRISPR can fix. On the other hand, DNA editing can give to the embryo features from appearance to the mental advantages. “Perhaps the most vexed question is about genome modification not for therapeutic reasons (to eliminate genes causing disorders) but for enhancement – attempting to improve a child’s intelligence or physical appearance,” says Kenan Malik in his The Guardian column. If a person or couple can afford only one child having an opportunity to give the best to it, would they use the technology? When all the regulation preventing the phenomena from happening are dropped, the new supreme human evolution will begin. Those humans would have no siblings. They would be connected to each other by new intelligent superior features.