We are living in a time of rapid change! I'm noticing a significant increase in childfree topics in the media these days. There are adults portrayed in movies that are openly choosing to not have kids and are simultaneously portrayed as fairly normal. Another shift is the percentage of adults who arrive at the end of their childbearing years and are not parents. These days, for women, it's around 20%, which is notable when compared to 10% in the 1970's.
So, what are the factors behind these trends, and what's likely to happen down the road?
Seven factors behind the increase in choosing childfree:
1) There is greater acceptance of this life choice. As more and more of us are seen not only surviving, but also actually thriving in our life without kids, this option gains respect. I suspect that younger generations will not have to be told as many times that they will regret it if they pass up parenting or that they will change their mind in time.
2) Childfree adults are less of an outsider now. Think about this-for a woman in her forties who's not a mom, she's one out of five when in a group with her peers, and a childfree woman who is now in her 70's was one out of ten when she was reaching the end of her childbearing years thirty years ago. So, if the number of women who choose to not become moms doubles again over the next 30 years, then two out of five, almost fifty percent, will not be moms in their mid-forties. With these kinds of ratios, parenting becomes a true life choice, rather than simply being something that everyone does, an essential life step.
3) There is increased acceptance that we simply can't do it all. Women are exhausted from juggling so many balls in the air. I feel sad for the receptionist in my friend's office, because she has four children and enjoyed being a stay at home mother until her husband was laid off. Now she is on the job from 8 to 5 Monday through Friday, with significantly less time for parenting. Would she have chosen to have four children had she known she'd be working 40 hours a week? A new book and movie, entitled I Don't Know How She Does It! paints a vivid picture of a working mother's life. The mother in the story competes successfully with men in her high-powered investment job, but she comes close to losing her marriage and her sanity as a result. Time analysts report that it takes around eight hours a day to raise two children to the age of eighteen-so just how does she do it??
4) More and more potential parents are concerned about the environment. Everywhere we turn there's an article on environmental issues. We face future shortages of food, fuel, water, and clean air and now that we have hit 7 billion, the drain on the earth is greater every day. I find it curious that we spend so much time on taking steps to save the environment, when the one most powerful way to do so would be to reduce world population.
5) Financial stresses are real! It's a fact that it costs $200,000 on average to raise one child to the age of eighteen in the United States, and that doesn't count college expenses. So, when a couple is struggling to pay basic bills for just themselves, they're likely to postpone or even forego parenting, especially if not having kids is seen as an acceptable option.
6) There is limited support from family. It's quite common nowadays for a young person to relocate far away from family and friends for work, so when it comes to contemplating children, many will opt out due to lack of a support network. This is especially key for people who have careers that require travel or who work for companies that lack family-friendly policies such as flex time.
7) There's increased openness about the parts of parenting that aren't so pleasant. Because of this, the image of the perfect child and family have turned into something that's much more realistic. And with uncertainty about marriage lasting as well as work instability, people are tending to be more cautious. When parenting is perceived as a burden that's optional rather than a joy and an expected part of life, many will choose to opt out.
My prediction is that more and more young people will choose a childfree life, and that this will spread to less developed countries over the next decade. Our challenge is to find ways to support an aging population other than through the wages of a younger generation as well as standing up to big business that pushes for growth, growth, growth.
Photo by Maggie Smith: The web address for Maggie Smith's portfolio is: