Many parents swear by the fact that having children changed their life for the better. Some people, however, are not attracted at all by the parent lifestyle and would like things to stay this way for the foreseeable future. A new study found that this group of people, known as ‘childfree individuals’, represent a quarter of all adults in Michigan, much more than previously believed.
According to the findings, these people aren’t any more or less happy than parents and individuals who wish to conceive in the future, contrary to popular belief. What’s more, there aren’t any significant personality differences between the two that could be used to predict who may be a ‘parent type of person’.
Studies in the past tended to lump together all types of nonparents into a single category which scientists then compared to parents. This approach can render flawed results if the intention is to compare people who are childless by their own volition to parents. Some people may be childless but only because of their current circumstances. They may not be able to conceive due to fertility issues or perhaps they’re wanting to improve their financial situation or career prospects. Some simply haven’t found that special person yet with whom they’d feel confident and secure to become a parent but would nevertheless want to have a child in the future.
Child-free individuals aren’t like that at all. They don’t have children nor do they wish to have children in the future — at least in this present time of their lives.
In order to make a more reliable comparison, researchers at Michigan State University relied on a set of three key questions when surveying a representative sample of 1,000 adults from the state. These were:
Do you have, or have you ever had, any biological or adopted children?
Do you plan to have any biological or adopted children in the future?
Do you wish you had or could have biological or adopted children?
Those who answered ‘yes’ to the first question were skipped out of the subsequent two questions and were automatically categorized as parents. Those who answered ‘no’ to the first question but gave an affirmative answer to the second were classed as not-yet-parents. Finally, those who said ‘no’ to all three questions were categorized as childfree.
“This approach to identifying childfree individuals differs from prior research in two important ways. The second question allows us to distinguish individuals who expect to have children in the future (i.e. not-yet-parents) from those who do not (i.e. childless and childfree). Additionally, the third question classifies an individual as childfree or childless based solely on their lack of desire for biological or adopted children, regardless of their fertility status. In our analyses, parental status is treated as a categorical variable with childfree as the omitted or reference category,” the researchers wrote in their study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
After controlling for the demographics of the participants, the researchers could not find any differences in terms of life satisfaction and found limited differences in personality traits between childfree and parents or not-yet-parents.
“We also found that childfree individuals were more liberal than parents, and that people who aren’t child-free felt substantially less warm toward child-free individuals,” said Zachary Neal, lead author of the study and an associate professor in Michigan State University’s department of psychology.
The most surprising part of the study was that nearly one in four people in Michigan identified themselves as childfree, which is a pretty huge proportion when compared to previous estimates that relied on fertility to identify childfree individuals. Such previous assessments placed the childfree rate at only 2% to 9%.
Among the childfree, 35% are in a partnered relationship, which means that couples who have no interest in becoming parents during their lifetimes are a sizable type of family. It is not clear whether the proportion of this type of childfree family has increased over time and what impact this might have on Michigan’s demographics, or the United States at large if the findings apply countrywide since this was not the focus of the study.