Psychologist Xin Meng of the Australian National University in Canberra and her colleagues recruited 421 Chinese young adults born between 1975 and 1983 from around Beijing for a series of surveys and tests that evaluated a variety of psychological traits, such as trustworthiness and optimism. Almost all the participants born after 1979 were only children compared with about one fifth of those born before 1979. The study participants born after the policy went into effect were found to be both less trusting and less trustworthy, less inclined to take risks, less conscientious and optimistic, and less competitive than those born a few years earlier.

“Because of the one-child policy, parents are less likely to teach their child to be imaginative, trusting and unselfish,” Meng says. Without siblings, she notes, the need to share may not be emphasized, which could help explain these findings.