This article is about the choice not to have children. For the inability to have children despite one's desire to have them, see Childlessness Involuntary.
Lifelong voluntary choice to not have children
Voluntary childlessness, also described by some as being childfree, is the voluntary choice to not have children.
In most societies and for most of human history, choosing not to have children was both difficult and undesirable. The availability of reliable contraception along with support provided in old age by one's government rather than one's family has made childlessness an option for people in some, though they may be looked down upon in certain communities.
The usage of the term "childfree" to describe people who choose not to have children was coined in the English language late in the 20th century. 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. The term 'child free' has been cited in Australian literature to refer to parents who are without children at the current time. This may be due to them living elsewhere on a permanent basis or a short-term solution such as childcare.
Supporters of living childfree (e.g. Corinne Maier, French author of "No Kids: 40 Reasons For Not Having Children") cite various reasons for their view:
According to economist David Foot of the University of Toronto, the level of a woman's education is the most important factor in determining whether she will reproduce: the higher her level of education, the less likely she is to bear children (or if she does, the fewer children she is likely to have). Overall, researchers have observed childless couples to be more educated, and it is perhaps because of this that they are more likely to be employed in professional and management occupations, more likely for both spouses to earn relatively high incomes, and to live in urban areas. They are also less likely to be religious, subscribe to traditional gender roles, or subscribe to conventional roles.
Worldwide, higher educated women are statistically more often choosing voluntary childlessness. Waren and Pals (2013) found that voluntary childlessness in the United States was more common among higher educated women but not higher educated men. In Europe, childlessness among women aged 4044 is most common in Austria, Spain and the United Kingdom (in 2010-2011). Among surveyed countries, childlessness was least common across Eastern European countries, although one child families are very common there.
Research into both voluntary and involuntary childlessness and parenthood has long focused on women's experiences, and men's perspectives are often overlooked.
In March 2020, Quest reported that research had shown that, in Belgium, 11% of women and 16% of men between the ages of 25 and 35 did not want children.
According to research by Statistics Netherlands from 2004, 6 in 10 childless women are voluntarily childless. 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 childfreedom. 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. A 2016 report from Statistics Netherlands confirmed those numbers: 20% of Dutch women was childless, of whom 60% voluntarily, so that 12% of all Dutch women could be considered childfree.
In March 2017, Trouw reported that new a Statistics Netherlands report 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.
In March 2020, Quest reported that research from Trouw and Statistics Netherlands had shown that 10% of 30-year-old Dutch women questioned had not gotten children out of her own choice, and did not expect to get 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.
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.
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.
Being a childfree, American adult was considered unusual in the 1950s. However, the proportion of childfree adults in the population has increased significantly since then. A 2006 study by Abma and Martinez 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. The National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of American women of childbearing age who define themselves as childfree (or voluntarily childless) rose sharply in the 1990sfrom 2.4 percent in 1982 to 4.3 percent in 1990 to 6.6 percent in 1995.
From 2007 to 2011 the fertility rate in the U.S. declined 9%, the Pew Research Center reporting 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; it did not say which percentage of childless Americans were so voluntarily, but Time claimed that, despite persisting discrimination against especially women who chose to remain childless, acceptance of being childfree was gradually increasing.
Among women aged 3544, the chance of being childless was far greater for never-married (82.5%) than for married women (12.9%). When the same group is analyzed by education level, increasing education correlates with increasing childlessness: non-H.S. graduate (13.5%), H.S. graduate (14.3%), Some College no degree (24.7%), Associate Degree (11.4%), Bachelor's degree (18.2%) and Graduate or Professional degree (27.6%).
While younger women are more likely to be childfree, older women are more likely to state that they intend to remain childfree in the future. It has also been suggested through research that married individuals who were concerned about the stability of their marriages were more likely to remain childless. However, some women report that lack of financial resources was a reason why they decided to remain childless. Childless women in the developed world often express the view that women ultimately have to make a choice between motherhood and having a career.
Most societies place a high value on parenthood in adult life, so that people who remain childfree are sometimes stereotyped as being "individualistic" people who avoid social responsibility and are less prepared to commit themselves to helping others. However, certain groups believe that being childfree is beneficial. With the advent of environmentalism and concerns for stewardship, those choosing to not have children are also sometimes recognized as helping reduce our impact, such as members of the voluntary human extinction movement. Some childfree are sometimes lauded on moral grounds, such as members of philosophical or religious groups, like the Shakers.
There are three broad areas of criticism regarding childfreeness, based upon socio-political, feminist or religious reasons. There are also considerations relating to personal philosophy and social roles.
Feminist author Daphne DeMarneffe links larger feminist issues to both the devaluation of motherhood in contemporary society, as well as the delegitimization of "maternal desire" and pleasure in motherhood. In third-wave handbook Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards explore the concept of third-wave feminists reclaiming "girlie" culture, along with reasons why women of Baby Boomer and Generation X ages may reject motherhood because, at a young and impressionable age, they witnessed their own mothers being devalued by society and family.
On the other hand, in "The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order" and in Utne Reader magazine, third-wave feminist writer Tiffany Lee Brown described the joys and freedoms of childfree living, freedoms such as travel previously associated with males in Western culture. In "Motherhood Lite," she celebrates being an aunt, co-parent, or family friend over the idea of being a mother.
Some believe that overpopulation is a serious problem and some question the fairness of what they feel amount to subsidies for having children, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (US), free K12 education paid for by all taxpayers, family medical leave, and other such programs.Others, however, do not believe overpopulation to be a problem in itself; regarding such problems as overcrowding, global warming, and straining food supplies to be problems of public policy and/or technology.
Some have argued that this sort of conscientiousness is self-eliminating (assuming it is heritable), so by avoiding reproduction for ethical reasons the childfree will only aid deterioration of concern for the environment and future generations.
Some regard governmental or employer-based incentives offered only to parentssuch as a per-child income tax credit, preferential absence planning, employment legislation, or special facilitiesas intrinsically discriminatory, arguing for their removal, reduction, or the formation of a corresponding system of matching incentives for other categories of social relationships. Childfree advocates argue that other forms of caregiving have historically not been considered equalthat "only babies count"and that this is an outdated idea that is in need of revision. Caring for sick, disabled, or elderly dependents entails significant financial and emotional costs but is not currently subsidized in the same manner. This commitment has traditionally and increasingly fallen largely on women, contributing to the feminization of poverty in the U.S.
The focus on personal acceptance is mirrored in much of the literature surrounding choosing not to reproduce. Many early books were grounded in feminist theory and largely sought to dispel the idea that womanhood and motherhood were necessarily the same thing, arguing, for example, that childfree people face not only social discrimination but political discrimination as well.
Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as Hinduism place a high value on children and their central place in marriage. In numerous works, including an Apostolic letter written in 1988, Pope John Paul II has set forth the Roman Catholic emphasis on the role of children in family life. However, the Catholic Church also stresses the value of chastity in the non-married state of life and so approves of nominally childfree ways of life for the single.
There are, however, some debates within religious groups about whether a childfree lifestyle is acceptable. Another view, for example, is that the biblical text Gen. 1:28 "Be fruitful and multiply", is really not a command but a blessing formula and that while there are many factors to consider as far as people's motives for remaining childless, there are many valid reasons, including dedicating one's time to demanding but good causes, why Christians may choose to remain childless for a short time or a lifetime. Matthew 19:12 describes Jesus as listing three types of eunuchs including one type who chooses it intentionally, noting that whoever is willing to become one, should.
Brian Tomasik cites ethical reasons for people to remain childfree. Also, they will 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.
Some opponents of the childfree choice consider such a choice to be selfish. The rationale of this position is the assertion that raising children is a very important activity and so not engaging in this activity must therefore mean living one's life in service to one's self. The value judgment behind this idea is that individuals should endeavor to make some kind of meaningful contribution to the world, but also that the best way to make such a contribution is to have children. For some people, one or both of these assumptions may be true, but others prefer to direct their time, energy, and talents elsewhere, in many cases toward improving the world that today's children occupy (and that future generations will inherit).
Proponents of childfreedom 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. 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/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.
There is also the question as to whether having children really is such a positive contribution to the world in an age when there are many concerns about overpopulation, pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources. Some critics counter that such analyses of having children may understate its potential benefits to society (e.g. a greater labor force, which may provide greater opportunity to solve social problems) and overstate the costs. That is, there is often a need for a non-zero birth rate.
People, especially women, who express the fact that they have voluntarily chosen to remain childless, are frequently subjected to several different forms of discrimination. The decision not to have children has been variously attributed to insanity or derided as 'unnatural', 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. Some consciouslessly childless women have been told that their purpose in life was to get children based on the fact that they were born with a womb (created by God). Some British childfree women have compared their experiences of coming out as childfree to coming out as gay in the mid-20th century. Some Canadian women preferred not to express their decision to remain childless for fear of encountering social pressure to change their decision. Some women are told to first have a child before being able to properly decide that they don't want one. Some parents try to pressure their children into producing grandchildren and threaten to or actually disown them if they don't. Some childfree women are told they would make good mothers, or just 'haven't met the right man yet', are assumed to be infertile rather than having made a conscious decision not to make use of their fertility (whether applicable or not). Some childfree people are accused of hating all children instead of just not wanting any themselves and still being able to help people who do have children with things like babysitting.
It has also been claimed that there is a taboo on discussing the negative aspects of pregnancy, and a taboo on parents to express regret that they chose to have children, which makes it harder for childfree people to defend their decision not to have them.
Social attitudes about voluntarily childlessness have been slowly changing from condemnation and pathologisation in the 1970s towards more acceptance by the 2010s.
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. It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.
The National Organization for Non-Parents (N.O.N.) was established in Palo Alto, California by Ellen Peck and Shirley Radl in 1972. N.O.N. was formed to advance the notion that men and women could choose not to have childrento be childfree. Changing its name to the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood, it continued into the early 1980s both as a support group for those making the decision to be childfree and an advocacy group fighting pronatalism (attitudes/advertising/etc. promoting or glorifying parenthood). According to its bylaws, the purpose of the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood was to educate the public on non-parenthood as a valid lifestyle option, support those who choose not to have children, promote awareness of the overpopulation problem, and assist other groups that advanced the goals of the organization. N.O.N.'s offices were located in Reisterstown, Maryland; then Baltimore; and ultimately in Washington, D.C. N.O.N. designated August 1 as Non-Parents' Day. Just as people with children come from all shades of the political spectrum and temper their beliefs accordingly, so do the childfree. For example, while some childfree people think of government welfare to parents as "lifestyle subsidies," others accept the need to assist such individuals but think that their lifestyle should be equally compensated. Still others accept the need to help out such individuals and also do not ask for subsidies of their own.
There are suggestions of an emergence of political cohesion, for example an Australian Childfree Party (ACFP) proposed in Australia as a childfree political party, promoting the childfree lifestyle as opposed to the family lifestyle. Increasing politicization and media interest has led to the emergence of a second wave of childfree organizations that are openly political in their raisons d'tre, with a number of attempts to mobilize political pressure groups in the U.S. The first organization to emerge was British, known as Kidding Aside.
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Voluntary childlessness - Wikipedia