Voluntary childlessness

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Voluntary childlessness or childfreeness[1][2] describes the active choice not to have children. The word childfree first appeared sometime before 1901[3] and entered common usage among feminists during the 1970s.[4][5] The suffix -free refers to the freedom and personal choice of those to pick this lifestyle. The meaning of the term childfree extends to encompass the children of others (in addition to one's own children), and this distinguishes it further from the more usual term childless, which is traditionally used to express the idea of having no children, whether by choice or by circumstance.[6] In the research literature, the term child-free or childfree has also been used to refer to parents currently not living with their children, for example because they have already grown up and moved out.[7] In common usage, childfree might be used in the context of venues or activities wherein (young) children are excluded even if the people involved may be parents, such as a childfree flight[8] or a childfree restaurant.[9]

In most societies and for most of human history, choosing not to have children was both difficult and socially undesirable, except for celibate individuals. The availability of reliable birth control (which has severed the link between sexuality and reproduction),[10][11] more opportunities for financial security (especially for women),[12] better healthcare (which has extended human life expectancy), and elderly care financed by the government or by one's own savings rather than one's family has made childlessness a viable option,[13][14] even if this choice might still be frowned upon by society at large. Nevertheless, in some modern societies, being childfree has become not just more tolerated but also more common.[15][16]

Reasons cited for being voluntarily childless[edit]

Supporters of this lifestyle cite various reasons for their view.[13][17][15] These reasons can be personal, social, philosophical, moral, economic, or a complex, nuanced combination of such reasons.

Early twentieth-century postcard of a woman fighting a stork bringing her a child. As women's opportunities increase, they become less interested in having children.

Many suffered abuse by the hands of their own parents and as such have little interest in parenthood,[18][19] or the duplication of their family's genes.[20][21][22] They also fear the continuation of the cycle of abuse or other defects in their styles of parenting.[17][23][15] Indeed, fear is in general a major motivation for voluntary childlessness,[15] and some are also concerned with disabilities,[13] rendering childcare even more challenging;[24] or that the children might grow up to be immoral people.[15] However, childfree individuals are unlikely to have the fear of missing out on the alleged benefits of parenthood[20][25] because there are parents who regret having children,[26] leaving the childfree to deem the decision to "just try" to have children irresponsible.[20][10] And parents can become less empathetic towards non-family members.[27] Some people simply do not feel the "biological clock" ticking[28] and have no parental drives.[29][30] On the other hand, some meet the right partners at too advanced an age to safely bear children.[15][30] Among some women, there is a fear or revulsion towards the physical condition of pregnancy (tokophobia),[31] and the childbirth experience.[32] Some are worried that an existing (and strained) romantic relationship or marriage might be damaged (beyond repair) with the arrival of children,[15][33][34] and this could be the case of one partner does not want children.[23] Among women, the mental health of those of reproductive years declines among mothers relative to those with no children, whose psychological well-being remains more or less stable during this period.[35] In general, couples experience a drop in the level of happiness after having a baby, though the level depends on a variety of factors,[34] including sex, age, and nationality.[36] But in the long run, there is a gap in happiness between parents and the childfree in favor of the latter, even in places with generous programs to support (working) parents.[36][37]

For some, it is sufficient to spend time with their nephews, nieces or stepchildren,[15] or to provide childcare and babysitting services as part of an extended family or godparent,[10][38] and to nourish (existing) friendships,[13] which might falter if they were to become parents.[39] Some are also taking care of elderly parents.[40] Some childfree individuals consider themselves to be already working for the benefit of the next generation or of humanity as a whole by making charitable donations, or working as schoolteachers or pediatricians.[20] In addition, one's partner might already have children from a previous relationship and is unable or unwilling to have more.[13] On the other hand, some people simply dislike children's behavior, language, and/or biological processes.[26][17][20][15][24]

Medical concerns constitute an entire class of reasons why some people do not want to have children. Some people carry genetic disorders,[13][15][2][41] are mentally ill,[39] or are otherwise too sick for parenthood,[23] and children are vectors of numerous infectious diseases.[42] But even among healthy couples, new parents are often sleep deprived.[13][17][14] Pregnancy and childbirth might come with complications for the woman's body and lasting effects on her health,[31] including, but not limited to, weight gain, hemorrhoids, urinary incontinence,[43] accelerated cellular aging,[44] and even death.[45] Substantial neurological changes during and following pregnancy could lead to sentiments of insecurity and inadequacy, postpartum depression,[46] something men might also face.[47] This information is traditionally not provided to parents in advance to avoid frightening them.[46]

Woman jogging with a dog at Carcavelos beach, Portugal. Some people prefer pets to children. Many single childfree women are quite happy.[48]

In an agrarian society, children are a source of labor and thus income for the family. But as society shifts towards industries other than agriculture and as more people relocate to the cities, children become a net sink of parental resources. For this reason, people tend to have fewer children, or none at all. This change is known as the first demographic transition.[49] The second demographic transition occurs when the cultural attitude towards children changes.[49] In particular, this is when society shifts from traditional and communal values towards individualism,[50] whereupon support for traditional gender roles declines[33] and fewer people believe that they need to have children in order to be complete,[33] successful,[14] or happy.[51][52][28] Whereas in the past, a woman typically had to get married and bear children in order to ensure her own survival,[53][12] in a modern society, people—including women—have more choices, and they are increasing aware that reproduction is an option, and not an obligation.[12][33][54] Consequently, people who choose to have children tend to have fewer of them, and an increasing number prefer to be childfree.[12][49] Moreover, contemporary young people, especially women, tend to be more ambitious and career-minded than their counterparts in the past, and for them, children count as a distraction, an unwanted expenditure, or an undesirable commitment.[15][33][29][30] Childfree people could take advantage of other opportunities in life, such as pursuing a career, retiring early, making charitable donations, having more leisure, and being more active in the community.[55][56][57][58] Some find themselves exhausted with work and are therefore in no position to be parents.[59] Furthermore, the cost of raising a child tends to be quite high as a society industrializes and urbanizes.[49][15][23] Simply reviewing the full financial expense of having a child can shift a person's opinion on whether or not he or she should have one.[60][61] But the cost of raising a child is, for most, not as important as the desire for personal growth and fulfillment.[12] As parenthood loses its appeal, pets gain in popularity, at least among those who wish to have something or someone to care for.[62][63] In South Korea, young couples of the 2010s are more likely to have pets, which are cheaper than children.[63] In the English language, the phrase "fur baby" was first introduced in the 1990s and steadily became more commonplace afterwards as Millennials came of age.[64] In the West, members of the countercultural or feminist movements in the 1960s and 1970s typically had no children.[65] They disapproved of the how women were treated differently from men.[53][66] Some feminists recall how their own mothers were treated when they were young.[67] Among radical feminists, the traditional family is viewed "a decadent, energy-absorbing, destructive, wasteful institution."[68] Similarly, in China, a socially conservative and patriarchal country, women have become much less interested in marriage and children, viewing these as burdens.[53]

Reduction of one's carbon footprint for various actions

The next group of reasons why people prefer to not have children is economic in nature.[69] Childfree people reject the claim that their national economies are at risk just because they have no children.[20] For many, existing burdens of taxes and debts are already great,[49] and yet they are facing stagnant or falling wages[49] and a high cost of living.[55] But even among those who are not facing dire financial circumstances, not having a child means more savings and possibly early retirement.[29][58] They realize that having children is not a guaranteed safety net for parent-child relations might be strained.[70] For women, the lack of adequate support for working mothers is a major concern.[59][62][66]

Some people face general existential angst due to the state of the world (pestilence, war, famine, economic recession, the breakdown of civilization, among other issues) or the politics of their countries, and therefore question whether having children really is such a positive contribution.[33][55][71][72] The human population has grown significantly since the start of the Industrial Revolution, leading many to believe that overpopulation has become a serious problem and some to question the fairness of what in their view amounts to subsidies for having children—such as tax credits for parents (such as the Earned Income Tax Credit in the United States), paid parental leave, and public education[73]—as well as social welfare programs that require more people to be born to ensure said programs can be funded by taxes.[74] To this end, concerns over the impact of human activities on the environment—overpopulation, climate change, pollution, resource scarcity, and the ongoing Holocene Extinction—are a major reason behind voluntary childlessness.[75][76][77]

Having fewer children or no children at all drastically reduces one's carbon emissions compared to, for instance, owning a car with improved fuel efficiency, replacing incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient models (such as LEDs), or avoiding air travel.[78][79][75][71] Among a subset of environmentalists, there is opposition to anthropocentrism,[22] and support for deep ecology, or putting non-human lives first.[74][75] Some even call for the gradual and voluntary extinction of Homo sapiens,[22][80][74] viewing it as not entirely a tragedy[80] but rather an act of empathy and nobility.[22] In their opinion, human existence inflicts harm not just upon humans themselves but also other species via predatory practices.[80]

Antinatalists such as philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argued that having children is inherently wrong because life is full of suffering.

But these (misanthropic) perspectives are not unique to environmentalists. A school of philosophy known as antinatalism asserts that it is inherently immoral to bring people into the world.[81] Antinatalists argue in favor of the asymmetry of pleasure and pain, viewing the absence of pleasure is neutral whereas the absence of pain is positive.[82] For them, refraining from reproduction can be thought of as a form of compassion for the unborn.[71] Moreover, since parents can never secure the consent of their unborn child, the decision to procreate would be an imposition of life, a source of suffering,[15][81] and a form of narcissism.[17][39][82] However, some childfree people explicitly reject antinatalism; they may even like the children of others, but just do not want any themselves.[20]

Modern societies often have high expectations of parents, which some people consider distasteful.[26] In English, the (pejorative) term "soccer mom" is used to described women obsessed with being mothers.[26] In general, as a society becomes better developed, it is generally true that parental investment per child goes up, causing fertility rates to go down.[83] In countries where having children out of wedlock is either highly unusual or socially ostracized, such as China, having trouble getting married is a reason why most choose to not have children.[53]

Proponents of childfreeness posit that choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children. Choosing to have children may be the more selfish choice, especially when poor parenting risks creating many long-term problems for both the children themselves and society at large.[84] As philosopher David Benatar explains, at the heart of the decision to bring a child into the world often lies the parents' own desires (to enjoy child-rearing or perpetuate one's legacy or genes), rather than the potential person's interests. At the very least, Benatar believes this illustrates why a childfree person may be just as altruistic as any parent.[85] They will also have more time to focus on themselves, which will allow for greater creativity and the exploration of personal ambitions. In this way, they may benefit themselves and society more than if they had a child,[86] and describe the joys and freedoms of childfree living, freedoms such as travel previously associated with males in Western culture.[87]

But simply not wanting children is the most important reason for many.[21][33][23][25] Compared to the 1970s, social attitudes towards voluntary childlessness have been slowly changing from condemnation and hostility to greater acceptance by the 2010s.[15][16]

Challenges to remaining childfree[edit]

Childfree people face not only social discrimination but political discrimination as well.[73] Most societies place a high value on parenthood in adult life, so that people who remain childfree are sometimes stereotyped selfish or self-absorbed unwilling to take on responsibility.[88][89] Some are deemed too career-focused, although this is not necessarily true.[89] In line with policies of family-friendliness, governments and employers typically offer support for parents, even though people without children might have to care for invalid, disabled, or elderly dependents, commitments that entail significant financial and emotional costs.[90] The "life" aspect of the work-life balance is often taken to mean parenting. Non-parents, including the childfree, are thus assumed to be career-focused and willing to work extra time, which is not necessarily the case. What they do with their free time is not considered as important.[16] Some parents argue that they deserve special treatment for raising future workers and taxpayers. During the summer, requests for vacation leave from parents are typically approved quickly while the childfree are generally expected to stay behind to cover the workload.[91] To alleviate friction and to maintain goodwill, some employers have offered everyone paid leave at the same time.[91] More broadly, some human-resources departments and managers have introduced paid time off (PTO) to replace of the traditional paid family leave, paid sick leave, or paid vacation leave.[16]

It is traditionally held that womanhood must include motherhood and care giving.[73] Even today, these responsibilities fall largely on women.[73] Historically, it has been a social taboo to discuss the negative aspects of pregnancy and childbirth, or to express regret having children, making it more challenging for the childfree to defend their decision.[20] A number of religions—notably Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—place a high value on children and their central place in marriage.[92] There are, however, some debates within religious groups about whether a childfree lifestyle is acceptable. Another view, for example, is that the biblical verse "Be fruitful and multiply" in Genesis 1:28, is really not a command but an expression of blessing.[93] Alternatively, some Christians believe that Genesis 1:28 is a moral command but nonetheless believe that voluntary childlessness is ethical if a higher ethical principle intervenes to make child bearing imprudent in comparison. Health concerns, a calling to serve orphans, serving as missionaries in a dangerous location, etc., are all examples that would make childbearing imprudent for a Christian. A small activist group, the Cyber-Church of Jesus Christ Childfree, defends this view, saying "Jesus loved children but chose to never have any, so that he could devote his life to telling the Good News."[94]

Some have argued that the conscientiousness of childfree environmentalists is self-eliminating since they only aid in the deterioration of concern for the environment and future generations, though this argument assumes that attitudes are heritable.[95][96]

People who express the fact that they have voluntarily chosen to remain childfree are frequently subjected to several forms of discrimination.[10] The decision not to have children has been derided as "unnatural" or attributed to insanity, and frequently childfree people are subjected to unsolicited questioning by friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances and even strangers who attempt to force them to justify and change their decision,[10][14][15] for example during holiday family gatherings.[97] Some women have argued that revealing their decision to not have children was akin to coming out as gay in the mid-20th century whereas others who chosen to avoid such conversations to avoid social pressure to change their decision.[10] They might be told to first have a child before deciding whether or not they do not want one,[10] to "hurry up" and lower their standards for suitable men,[98] that they would make good mothers, that they have not yet met the "right" man, or are assumed to be infertile rather than having made a conscious decision not to make use of their fertility. Many parents pressure their children into producing grandchildren and threaten to or actually disown them if they do not.[10][20] Some childfree people are accused of hating all children instead of just not wanting any themselves even though these people might still be willing to help others rear their children.[10][20]

While the idea of a childfree flight has become popular in the 2020s, with individuals even willing to pay extra, it is unlikely to be instituted by a major airline for reasons of public relations, regulations, and profit.[8] On the other hand, this is not an issue for certain other venues, such as restaurants.[9]

Organizations and political activism[edit]

Childfree individuals do not necessarily share a unified political or economic philosophy, and most prominent childfree organizations tend to be social in nature. Childfree social groups first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, most notable among them the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood and No Kidding! in North America where numerous books have been written about childfree people and where a range of social positions related to childfree interests have developed along with political and social activism in support of these interests. The term "childfree" was used in a July 3, 1972 Time article on the creation of the National Organization for Non-Parents.[99] It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.[100]

The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT, pronounced 'vehement') is an environmental movement that calls for all people to abstain from reproduction to cause the gradual voluntary extinction of humankind.[74] Despite its name, the movement also includes those who do not necessarily desire human extinction but do want to curb or reverse human population growth in the name of environmentalism.[101] VHEMT was founded in 1991 by Les U. Knight, an American activist who became involved in the American environmental movement in the 1970s and thereafter concluded that human extinction was the best solution to the problems facing the Earth's biosphere and humanity.[74] VHEMT supports human extinction primarily because, in the movement's view, it would prevent environmental degradation.[74] The movement states that a decrease in the human population would prevent a significant amount of human-caused suffering.[74] The extinctions of non-human species and the scarcity of resources required by humans are frequently cited by the movement as evidence of the harm caused by human overpopulation.[74]

In some countries like Russia, the movement Childfree Russia has been equated with extremism. And individuals like its founder Edward Lisovskii, is persecuted by the government. [102][103][104]

Statistics and research[edit]


The childfree lifestyle had become a trend by 2014,[33] and the Internet has enabled people who pursue this lifestyle to connect, thereby making it more visible.[21][29][82] Worldwide, higher educated women are statistically more often choosing to remain childless.[17] Research into both voluntary and involuntary childlessness and parenthood has long focused on women's experiences, and men's perspectives are often overlooked.[15]



In China, the conflict between women's work and family is a contributing factor to the nation's low fertility rate.[105] In the 1990s, the Chinese government reformed higher education in order to increase access, whereupon significantly more young people, a slight majority of whom being women, have received a university degree. Consequently, many young women are now more likely to be gainfully employed and financially secure. Traditional views on gender roles dictate that women be responsible for housework and childcare, regardless of their employment status. Workplace discrimination against women (with families) is commonplace; for example, an employer might be more skeptical towards a married woman with one child, fearing she might have another (as the one-child policy was rescinded in 2016) and take more maternity leave. Consequently, there no strong incentive for young women to marry and have children.[53] Moreover, the cost of living, especially the cost of housing in the big cities, is a serious obstacle to marriage.[53] In addition, Chinese Millennials are less keen on tying the knots than their predecessors as a result of cultural change; many are now skeptical of the institution of marriage. Because this is a country where having children out of wedlock is quite rare, this means that many young people are foregoing children.[53]

The "lying flat" movement, popular among Chinese youths, also extends to the domain of marriage and child-rearing.[106] Over half of Chinese youths aged 18 to 26 said they were uninterested in having children because of the high cost of child-rearing, according to a 2021 poll by the Communist Youth League.[107] While the Chinese economy has improved steadily, an explosive bloom of the real-estate market post-2008 has triggered an increase in house prices disproportionate to income. This is the commonly cited reason for childlessness and "lying flat" among the Chinese youth. A normal apartment unit in Beijing (with an average area of 112 square meters), for instance, costs on average ¥7.31 million ($1.15 million),[108] and one would need to work non-stop for at least 88.2 years at Beijing's average monthly income of ¥6906 ($1083.7)[109] without any expenditures.

As of 2021, the national fertility rate is about 1.5 or even lower. In the more developed regions of the country, the fertility rate has been even lower for over a decade, only slightly higher than giving birth to one child per couple, which is comparable to the world's lowest fertility rate. This has been proven to be closely related to the aging population.[110] China's population is rapidly aging,[111] so much so that this demographic transition far exceeds the capacity of elderly care facilities. It is expected that by the mid-21st century, more than one-third of the population will be over 60 years of age. Of whom, more than 100 million will be over the age of 80. This means that there will be fewer than two working adults per senior citizen.[112]


In Taiwan, it has become much more affordable for young couples to own pets instead of having children. In addition, those who want children face obstacles such as short maternity leaves and low wages. By 2020, Taiwan has become home to more pets than children.[62]

South Korea[edit]

South Korea's low birth rate in recent years (2020s) is mostly due to people avoiding getting married and having children. That young people increasingly choose to remain single is influenced by a combination of not just economic factors but also cultural change. Among economic factors are the high cost of housing, the difficulty of find a job, and job insecurity.[113] As for cultural change, South Korean youths no longer deem marriage to be necessary, while contemporary young South Korean women are increasingly unwilling to sacrifice their own needs and aspirations in order to help their husbands to succeed in the labor market.[114] In addition, the heavy demands of Confucian family values have also led to a tense relationship between the rigid obligations of marital life and the socioeconomic reality of young people. Transitioning to a dual-income family means that young women will find it challenging to strike a balance between their responsibilities at work and at home.[114] Married Korean women prefer to continue working and despite the new policies, there are still obstacles in achieving work-life balance.[115] For this reason, working Korean women who choose to be mothers typically prefer to have very few children.[113]


As Vietnam continues to industrialize and urbanize, many couples have chosen to have fewer children, or none at all, especially in better developed and more densely populated places, such as Ho Chi Minh City, where the fertility rate fell to 1.45 in 2015, well below replacement. Rising cost of living and tiredness from work are among the reasons why.[116] By 2023, polls show that significant numbers of married Vietnamese are choosing to not have children in order to focus on their lives and careers, or because they are wary of the demands of parenthood.[117]


In Europe, childlessness among women aged 40–44 is most common in Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom (in 2010–2011).[118] Among surveyed countries, childlessness was least common across Eastern European countries.[118]


By March 2020, some 11% of Belgian women and 16% of Belgian men between the ages of 25 and 35 did not want children.[17]


Children infringe on freedom
Raising children takes too much time and energy
Partner did not want children
Hard to combine work and children
No compelling need/unfit
Health does not allow for children
Children cost too much
Hard to get child care
Reasons why Dutch women chose not to have children, 2004[23]

By 2004, 6 in 10 childless women are voluntarily childless.[23] It showed a correlation between higher levels of education of women and the choice to be childfree, and the fact that women had been receiving better education in the preceding decades was a factor why an increasing number of women chose to be childfree.[23] The two most important reasons for choosing not to have children were that it would infringe on their freedom and that raising children takes too much time and energy; many women who gave the second reason also gave the first.[23] A 2016 report confirmed those numbers: 20% of Dutch women were childless, of whom 60% voluntarily, so that 12% of all Dutch women could be considered childfree.[13]

By March 2017, reports showed that 22% of higher educated 45-year-old men were childless and 33% of lower educated 45-year-old men were childless. Childlessness amongst the latter was increasing, even though most of them were involuntarily childless. The number of voluntarily childless people amongst higher educated men had been increasing since the 1960s, whilst voluntary childlessness amongst lower educated men (who tended to have been raised more traditionally) did not become a rising trend until the 2010s.[119]

By March 2020, 10% of 30-year-old Dutch women questioned had not had children out of her own choice, and did not expect to have any children anymore either; furthermore, 8.5% of 45-year-old women questioned and 5.5% of 60-year-old women questioned stated that they had consciously remained childless.[17]

Raising a child cost an average of €120,000 from birth to age 18, or about 17% of one's disposable income as of 2019.[120][121]


By October 2020, some 7% of population between the ages of 18 and 45 did not want children, and this figure reached 20% within Moscow population. Most often, educated, wealthy and ambitious people refuse to have children. They are unwilling to sacrifice their comfort and career for the sake of their children. [1]


According to a 2019 study amongst 191 Swedish men aged 20 to 50, 39 were not fathers and did not want to have children in the future either (20.4%). Desire to have (more) children was not related to level of education, country of birth, sexual orientation or relationship status.[15]

Some Swedish men 'passively' choose not to have children as they feel their life is already good as it is, adding children is not necessary, and they do not have to counter the same amount of social pressure to have children as childfree women do.[15]

United Kingdom[edit]

A poll released in January 2020 revealed that among Britons who were not already parents, 37% told pollsters they did not want any children ever. 19% said they did not want children but might change their minds in the future and 26% were interested in having children. Those who did not want to be parents included 13% of people aged 18 to 24, 20% of those aged 25 to 34, and 51% aged 35 to 44. Besides age (23%), the most popular reasons for not having children were the potential impact on lifestyles (10%), high costs of living and raising children (10%), human overpopulation (9%), dislike of children (8%), and lack of parental instincts (6%).[30]

North America[edit]


In 2010, around half of Canadian women without children in their 40s had decided to not have any from an early age.[10] Among Canadian women aged 50 and over, about 17.2% had no biological children, as of 2022.[122] A 2023 report states that over a third of Canadians aged 18 to 49 do not want to have children. Many are also delaying having children or want to have fewer children than their predecessors.[123]

Pursuit of higher education, unaffordable housing, economic precariousness, and the rising cost of living are among the reasons why.[123][122] These trends have accelerated in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.[122] Like the case in other countries, there is a generational gap in attitudes towards reproduction. Baby Boomers are more likely to consider raising (grand) children to be a source of fulfillment or the glue that holds a marriage together. But not that many young Canadians share this view.[122] Moreover, while Canadians today are more tolerant towards the idea of not having children, many seniors still struggle with this decision coming from their own family members.[122]

In Canada, childfree venues are growing in popularity, including among parents who, despite loving their children, would like to spend some time away from them on occasions.[9]

United States[edit]

Being a childfree American adult was considered unusual in the 1950s.[124][125] However, the proportion of childfree adults in the population has increased significantly since then. A 2006 study found that American women aged 35 to 44 who were voluntarily childless constituted 5% of all U.S. women in 1982, 8% in 1988, 9% in 1995 and 7% in 2002. These women had the highest income, prior work experience and the lowest religiosity compared to other women.[126] Research revealed that childfree people tended to be better educated, to be professionals, to live in urban areas, to be less religious, and to have less conventional life choices.[29][127]

From 2007 to 2011 the fertility rate in the U.S. declined 9%, and in 2010 that the birth rate was the lowest in U.S. history and that childlessness rose across all racial and ethnic groups to about 1 in 5 versus 1 in 10 in the 1970s; although some of this may be involuntary. However, despite persisting discrimination against especially women who chose to remain childless, acceptance of being childfree was gradually increasing.[28]

A growing share of American adults does not want to have children.[128]

Overall, the importance of having children has declined across all age groups in the United States, especially the young.[129] A cross-generational study comparing Millennials (graduating class of 2012) to Generation X (graduating class of 1992) revealed that among both genders the proportion of undergraduates who reported they eventually planned to have children had dropped in half over the course of a generation. In 1992, 78% of women planned to eventually have children. But by 2021, that number fell to 42%. The results were similar for male students.[130][131][132] However, voluntary childlessness in the United States was more common among higher educated women, but not higher educated men.[15] A 2021 survey found that the number of non-parents aged 18 to 49 who said they were not too likely or not at all likely to have children was 44%, up seven points compared to 2018. Among these people, 56% said they simply did not want to have children.[128] A 2023 poll found that about 23% of people adults below the age of 30 thought that having children was important, 9 percentage points below those aged 65 and above.[129]

Student debts, a serious problem among Millennials and Generation Z in the United States, discourage many from having children.[133]

Women who never married or have children are among the happiest subgroup in the United States.[52] And by 2019 single people, women without children made more money than men without children or men and women with children.[69]

In the U.S., although being voluntarily childless or childfree is not without its disadvantages, such as higher taxes, less affordable housing options, and concern of old age, parenthood continues to lose its appeal.[69] After the Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (2022), which returned the right to regulate aspects of abortion not covered by federal law to the individual states, the number of young and childfree adults seeking sterilization went up. Previously, it was usually middle-aged fathers who obtained vasectomies.[134][135]


New Zealand[edit]

It is estimated that that the share of childfree women grew from under 10% in 1996 to around 15% in 2013. Professional women were the most likely to be without children, at 16%, compared with 12% for manual workers. At least 5% of women were childfree by choice.[136]

In popular culture[edit]

The novel Olive (2020) by Emma Gannon includes several voluntarily childless characters.[137][138]

One character from the television series True Detective (2014–19) upholds the anti-natalist philosophy.[81]

See also[edit]



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  2. ^ a b Engwall, Kristina (May 4, 2014). "Childfreeness, parenthood and adulthood". Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research. 16 (4): 333–347. doi:10.1080/15017419.2013.781955. ISSN 1745-3011. S2CID 144352218.
  3. ^ "Definition of CHILD-FREE". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved March 12, 2024.
  4. ^ Savage, Maddy (February 14, 2023). "The adults celebrating child-free lives". BBC Future. Retrieved June 30, 2023.
  5. ^ Walker, Ellen (January 19, 2014). "Childfree Trend on the Rise: Four Reasons Why!". Psychology Today. Retrieved July 31, 2022.
  6. ^ The obsolete term "childerless"—meaning "without children"—is given, for example in Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1971. p. 343. ISBN 9780717285006. LCCN 76-188038.
  7. ^ de Vaus, D. (April 2004). "Diversity and change in Australian families". Australian Institute for Family Studies. Retrieved March 8, 2024.
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]