Although many see parenthood as the highlight of their lives, some couples don’t want children at all right now — and probably never. According to a new study, this distinct social group, which researchers call ‘childfree individuals’, may represent a much higher proportion of the population than most people might think.
Up to one in five adults in the U.S. are childfree, meaning they don’t have children nor do they wish to have children in the future. But these revelations come very recently after the U.S. Supre Court overturned Roe v. Wade, paving the way for limiting or even banning abortion altogether.
No kids? no big deal
In their study, the researchers led by Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, surveyed a representative sample of 1,500 adults from Michigan using a set of three questions meant to distinguish between parents, childfree individuals, and other types of nonparents.
If a person said they never had a biological or adopted child, nor do they plan or wish for any, then they were classed as a childfree individual.
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. These people are classed differently as ‘not-yet-parents’.
Not only did the study find that perhaps a surprisingly high fraction of the population is not interested in children, but they were also happy with their decision, contrary to popular belief. The researchers could not find any differences in terms of life satisfaction and personality traits between childfree and parents or not-yet-parents.
“People — especially women — who say they don’t want children are often told they’ll change their mind, but the study found otherwise,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor in the psychology department at Michigan State University and co-author of the study. “People are making the decision to be childfree early in life, most often in their teens and twenties. And, it’s not just young people claiming they don’t want children. Women who decided in their teens to be childfree are now, on average, nearly 40 and still do not have children.”
Although the surveys were conducted in Michigan, the demographics in the state are similar to the United States as a whole, meaning the findings could very well hold up nationally. This means that between 50 and 60 million Americans may very well be childfree.
Previous similar assessments pegged the childfree rate at around 9% and even as low as 2%.
When remaining childless is no longer necessarily an option
While the desire for children is still the norm in the United States, the fact that childfree people may constitute a much larger group than previously thought should warrant further attention. This is especially true in light of the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn the landmark 1973 ruling that secured a person’s constitutional right to have an abortion.
Although abortion is still legal in much of the US, individual states are now free to make abortion illegal. According to the Washington Post, seven states banned abortion nearly immediately after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Currently, abortion is illegal in Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and West Virginia with limited exceptions. Childfree individuals living in these states may find it more challenging to avoid parenting.
“Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a large number of Americans are now at risk of being forced to have children despite not wanting them,” said Watling Neal.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.