More and more adults are choosing not to have children. In the UK, 10% of generation Z (ages 18-23) choose not to have children compared to 4% of millennials (ages 24-40), a recent survey shows. Although the pandemic seemed to have increased the proportion of people opting to not have children, birth rates have been falling for some time. US birth rate is at a historic 35-year low and has fallen by 20% in the last 12 years.
Some Reasons for Not Having Children
A few cited reasons as to why people decide not to have children include:
- Plans for early retirement
- Worries about over population
- Environmental concerns
- Sufficient life satisfaction and purpose derived outside of parenthood
Happiness, Self-care, and Children
Here’s a snapshot of the research on parenthood and happiness.
New parents experience the happiness bump, a momentary increase in happiness. The bump, however, seems to dissipate after a year, when the reality of work and responsibilities kick in.
Affect Well-being vs. Life-meaning
Although parents have lower levels of affect well-being (how one feels about their life), they score higher in terms of life-meaning. In short, parenthood seems to provide purpose, but not necessarily satisfaction.
A mother’s satisfaction depends greatly on having a supportive partner. This partly explains why married mothers have higher satisfaction than mothers without partners.
Parents and non-parents have similar levels of life satisfaction, but parents experience more joy and stress daily. In short, parents have a less stable emotional journey, with more highs but also more stress.
Of course, the parenting journey has stages. As children grow older, parents report higher happiness levels when kids have moved out. Compared to non-parents, “by age 40 and beyond, mothers’ life-satisfaction levels were generally a bit lower than their childless counterparts“.
Keep in mind that these are averages and patterns. Personally, I have met happy couples, with children and without. These numbers can’t explain the full picture.
The Changing Tide
Society’s attitudes towards people, specially women, deciding not to have children have shifted. What society previously saw as an act of selfishness in wanting to have more personal time, now signals self-care and concern towards larger global issues.
Prominent couples have also come out sharing their decisions not to have children such as Seth Rogan and wife Lauren Miller (married 2011) and Wholefoods CEO John Mackey and wife Deborah Mackey (married 1991).
But to this day, we still refer to couples who choose to not have children as “childless” couples. The word has a negative connotation. It points to couples lacking or missing out. Maybe it’s time to have a word that focus less on what is missing, and name it for what it is: a lean family, a family composed of a marriage that can stand on its own, over time.
From Personal to Social
Deciding to not have children might start off as a personal decision, but there are social repercussions. I believe that this is especially true for women. Two years after marriage, my husband and I started getting questions about when we planned on having children. After 10 years of marriage, people still asked the question, but more cautiously, as if it was a sad subject. After 15 years, the questions changed from when will we have children to how our future will be without them. It takes a certain amount of conviction and confidence to withstand the social expectations.