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China's 1-child law raises concerns, new study finds

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 10:00 p.m.
Studies have raised concerns that China's urban children — by law generally their parents' sole offspring — might not be developing traits generally associated with entrepreneurs. AP

BEIJING — They're called “little emperors” — the children born in China under a law that generally limits urban families to having just one child.

They grow up as the sole focus of doting parents. How does this affect them? What does it mean to Chinese society if generations of kids are raised this way?

Concerns about the “only child” practice in China have been expressed before. Now researchers present new evidence that these children are less trusting, less competitive, more pessimistic, less conscientious and more risk-averse than people born before the policy was implemented.

The study's authors say the one-child policy has significant ramifications for Chinese society, leading to less risk-taking in the labor market and possibly fewer entrepreneurs.

China introduced its family planning policy in 1979 to curb a surging population. It limits most urban couples to one child.

The new work by Lisa Cameron of Monash University in Australia and co-authors is published online Friday in the journal Science. The researchers said the results don't necessarily apply to children born outside of the situation they studied: modern-day, urban China.

The findings — including indications that those in the study were more sensitive and nervous — are no surprise, said Zou Hong of the School of Psychology at Beijing Normal University, who was not involved in the research.

“Only children in Chinese families are loved and given almost everything by their families, and they can get resources at home without competition,” Zou said. “Once they enter society, they are no different from other people. Having been overly protected, they feel a sense of loss and show less competitiveness.”

Zou said parents of an only child tend to become overly nervous when they are ill, for example, and “that feeling will be passed on to the children and make them become more sensitive and nervous.”

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