Childfree refers to individuals or couples who do not have children, either by circumstance or by choice. Childless is a synonymous term, but is often received offensively due to the implication that these individuals or couples are missing something that they want. In some instances this is true, however for many people living childfree is a choice. There are a number of reasons why an individual or couple would choose to live childfree, ranging from personal career goals to an awareness of the environmental impacts of overpopulation. In societies that place great importance on parenthood and even incentivize it, childfree individuals are often stigmatized for deviating from the cultural norm. Furthermore, men and women may experience this stigmatization to varying degrees due to expected gendered roles. However, living childfree is simply another lifestyle choice and childfree individuals should be accepted.
Some people have personal reasons for not wanting children. Others may have particular fears about their own future or the future world that their child may inherit. Nonetheless, whatever choice an individual makes, either to have children or not, is one that they have the right to make. While we are biologically programmed to reproduce as well as reproduce our social selves, we find that many different lifestyles that are not solely focused on procreation, but rather on love and compassion have become accepted into mainstream society. Childfree individuals often experience similar micro-aggressions and stigmatization in the same way that members of the LGBTQiA community do. The way we overcome these differences is by listening to each other, understanding our differences, and accepting one another.
As humans, we are biologically programmed to reproduce for the survival of our species. But as human civilization has developed and become more complex, so have our relationships with one another. In most developed societies today, having children is no longer necessary to help with domestic tasks. In developing countries, it may be dangerous to have children due to socioeconomic insufficiencies such as poor health care and lack of access to food and clean water. In America, we can examine how the women’s rights movement of the mid 20th century and beyond has influenced this nuanced familial social institution.
Since the highly polarized debates around women’s reproductive rights and in particular the introduction of birth control, women have been waiting longer to have children, having fewer children, or simply having no children. With considerable help from women rights activists such as Margaret Sanger, women have been able to take control over their reproductive bodies and prevent unwanted pregnancy. In turn, women have since been breaking traditional gender roles that restrict them to domestic work and deny them an opportunity to pursue a career. This desire for equal rights and opportunity is one of the major reasons why many more women have been choosing to live childfree.
In fact, a recent study of U.S. women conducted in 2014, found that 49.6% of women between the ages of 25 and 29 are childfree.1 However, after the age of 30, the numbers drop to 28.9%. The data also showed that 47.6% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 have never had children, up from 46.5% in 2012.1 This represents the highest percentage of childfree women since the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Survey began tracking data in 1976. These findings point to a recent trend of women who are choosing to remain childfree and pursue opportunities outside of the traditional gendered role of motherhood.
What the women’s right movements of the 1970s fought for was exactly this. They aimed to acquire equal rights for women which would give them the same status as men, who are often not subjected to the same responsibility mothers are in child rearing. Having no children allowed women to pursue a higher education and take up professional careers. Women who choose to have children often face discrimination by employers and are adversely affected by short unpaid maternity leave. While there are women who have children as well as a successful career, or what may be known as a “supermom,” the expectation of this may be over exaggerated by society. The reality is that in the U.S., the wage gap between men and women remains, the cost of raising a child is high, and the demands placed on women professionally and domestically shapes choosing to not have children into a rational choice.3
While these are just a glimpse into the reasons women in particular choose to remain childfree, couples often choose the same lifestyle. Whether it is a heterosexual couple or a homosexual couple, the lifestyle choice to remain childfree is one the couple or individuals have the right to make.
Why Choose to Be Childfree?
Following is a non-exhaustive list of reasons why some people choose to live childfree. Please remember that that all reasons are equally acceptable.
- Competing family or social obligations, such as being a primary caregiver for a disabled family member.
- Lack of access to support, networks, or resources.
- Absence of a partner or perception that their partner is unfit to become a parent.
- Dislike of children.
- Existing or potential health problems or genetic disorders.
In some cases, fear plays a role in choosing to live childfree. This fear can stem from numerous sources. Some individuals and couples fear that a child will trap them. With a child, they feel that they would no longer be able to have the economic and social freedom they do without a child. Alternatively, some of this anxiety can also come from their fear of not being capable of raising their child well. Raising a child is an extraordinary task and many people fear failing at it. Other women fear pregnancy and childbirth. The medical term “tokophobia” was introduced in 2000 to describe the fear of childbirth as a psychological disorder that can induce nightmares, panic attacks, and difficulties focusing on work or family activities.4 Childbirth and pregnancy can be haunting and stressful experiences. Some women fear the physical and physiological changes that occur during pregnancy and those are enough to choose to not have children.
Other fears stem from the stress that having a child would put on their current romantic relationship. With almost half of marriages in the United States ending in divorce, many couples fear separating and having to raise the child as a single parent, especially so if having the child contributed to the reasons for divorce in the first place. Another considerable fear is not having enough financial stability. Obviously, having a child is expensive and some people fear they will not have enough money to support the child and provide them with a good substantial life.
Some people believe that they can make a greater contribution to humanity through social work than through having children. While childfree people are often perceived as selfish, they are often quite the contrary. RESOLVE, the national infertility association, suggests that a high percentage of childfree people are teachers, social workers, or people who spend weekends doing volunteer work with children or for social causes. Through their line of work childfree people are able to socially reproduce themselves by providing others with care and/or education. Furthermore, assisting in social work gives them a sense of belonging and purpose in life that many parents acquire through having children.
Some believe that people have children for the wrong reasons. Social pressure from family and friends can push someone into having a child even if they are not be ready or would rather not do so at all. Some believe that it is wrong to bring an unwanted or unplanned child into the world, and some people believe that it is wrong to intentionally have a child when there are so many children who are waiting to be adopted. Our beliefs play a strong role in all of the decisions we make. There is usually a set of values that we abide by to aid us in making decisions that we believe are right. All cultures and societies hold differing sets of beliefs and it is important to recognize that before making judgments about other people’s choices.
Some people choose to be childfree out of concern for the rest of the world. We live on a finite planet with finite resources. Current consumption patterns in the west and in other developed countries have depleted and damaged the very resources we need to sustain life on Earth. By putting more people on Earth, we risk running out of time and space to address many of the environmental issues that intersect with social issues such as inequality and poverty. Furthermore, some individuals and couples feel it is wrong to subject their child to the world they will inherit. Current climatologists and scholars point to overpopulation as one of the major contributors to global conflict. They insist that as we are projected to reach about 9.5 billion people on the planet by 2050, we will further strain the scarce resources we struggle over today. Furthermore, displacement by rising sea level, famine, drought, disease, and increased conflict over resources will further be extrapolated by overpopulation. While this may be a pessimistic view of the future, it is not far off from the current path we are on. Some individuals find this uncertain, cloudy future, some individuals find enough to choose to remain childfree.
These are just a few of the many reasons why individuals or couples choose to live childfree. There are many other societal factors that influence people’s choices. Sometimes these reasons are misconceived as selfish or immoral, which can make them susceptible to stigmatization and judgment. Often, these misconceptions stem from a misunderstanding of their socioeconomic situation as well as what it means to be childfree. Following are some common misconceptions about childfree people and the truths about them.
Remaining Childfree Means an Empty Life Throughout Old Age
Many people believe that a family is complete once a couple has children. However, childfree couples use the time and energy they would focus on raising a child on improving other aspects of their life and relationships. Individuals and couples who live childfree have much more time on their hands to explore and learn new activities and hobbies. More so, couples have more time to focus on their relationships and ways in which they can develop a stronger sense of connection with one another. Pets are also a way in which childfree individuals or couples find companionship without children. The idea that childfree people live empty lives is simply incorrect. As mentioned before, many childfree people take pride in their field of work and may fill their lives with work related accomplishments and successes.
While some people may regret not having children, some people regret having children. Often, parenting is one of the greatest sources of stress in a person’s life. In an analysis of a national cross section of mid- and late-life adults found that the childfree exhibited less depression than those who were parents.5
Childfree People Hate Kids
While some people who choose to remain childfree do so because of a dislike for children, it does not typically mean they hate children. Often, these people feel that having children is just not right for them. Some childfree people volunteer with organizations that involve children such as Big Brothers or Big Sisters, while others may coach youth sports. Furthermore, childfree people may be involved in the lives of their family members children. Being an involved aunt or uncle can create a parent-like relationship with these children without the responsibility of calling them their own.
Childfree People Aren’t as Happy as Parents
Recent studies conducted in 2014 suggest that those who are childfree and those who parent are equally as happy. However, the data does suggest that those who parent often feel less satisfied with their romantic relationship.2 Research suggests that one factor may be that parents appear to engage in less relationship maintenance than those who are childfree. More so, heterosexual parents were the group least likely to support each other, to make “couple time,” to pursue shared interests, to say “I love you,” and to talk openly with one another. Here, having children, as opposed to being childfree, creates more stress and strain on the relationships of couples.2
It is A Lifestyle
Although culturally, the significance of parenthood varies, in modern society, and typically that of westernized developed nations, people are choosing to live life childfree. Just as people choose their occupation and spouse, people choose to have children or not. The choices people make are simply their own. As societies continue to progress and become more complex we must learn to embrace our differences and become accepting of one another. Alternative lifestyle choices should not be judged quickly for we do not know their background or what experiences others have had. The alternative of a childfree life should be approached with curiosity instead of expectations and preconceived notions. Individuals must be willing to listen in order to understand the lifestyle choices others make.
1. Census. "Fertility." United States Census Bureau. USCB, 2014. Web. 15 May 2016. .
2. Gabb, Jacqui, Martina Klett-Davies, Janet Fink, and Manuela Thomae. "Enduring Love?" Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century Survey Findings Report (2013): n. pag. The Open University. Web. 15 May 2016.
3. Gray, Emma. "A Record Percentage Of Women Don't Have Kids. Here's Why That Makes Sense." Huffington Post. N.p., 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 15 May 2016. .
4. Hofberg, Kristina, and I. F. Brockington. "Tokophobia: An Unreasoning Dread of Childbirth | The British Journal of Psychiatry." The British Journal Of Psychiatry. N.p., 16 June 1999. Web. 18 May 2016. .
5. Umberson, Debra, Tetyana Pudrovska, and Corinne Reczek. “Parenthood, Childlessness, and Well-Being: A Life Course Perspective.” Journal of marriage and the family 72.3 (2010): 612–629. PMC. Web. 21 Apr. 2016.
Last Updated 28 May 2016