5 Reasons Some Men Decide to Remain Childfree

And how being childfree relates to their identity, according to new research.

Posted Oct 27, 2019

Both men and women face stigma for being childfree
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Childfree communities abound in a time when choosing not to have a child (hence, the term childfree rather than childless) is still frowned down upon. Recent research indicates that college students not only perceive childfree men and women as less fulfilled, but also see them as more immoral in comparison to their counterparts who have children.

Despite the stigma that they face, it is clear from falling birth rates in the U.S. and around the world that more and more people are choosing to be childfree. Yet there is currently little research on the childfree community—in particular, on childfree men. Thus, in a recent qualitative study, Smith, Knight, Fletcher, and Macdonald (2019) sought to understand men's reasons for being childfree and the experiences surrounding their decision.

Prior research has mostly focused on the experiences of childfree women, given the heavy societal pressures on women to bear children. Studies have found that women are often accused of being “selfish” or a “failure” for being childfree. While childfree men face relatively less stigma, they have been found to be less satisfied with their lives compared to childfree women, perhaps because they have less to gain from being childfree. Furthermore, compared to fathers, childfree men are less physically and psychologically healthy and are more likely be injured, to die, and to commit suicide.

To gain a better understanding of the psychological experiences of childfree men, Smith, Knight, Fletcher, and Macdonald (2019) interviewed 11 childfree men (28-34 years of age) living in Australia and identified 5 main reasons that they chose to be childfree:

1. Being different

The men emphasized that they were different from the norm, often describing themselves as “non-traditional.” They did not feel the need to conform to gender roles or societal standards. For instance, one man emphasized the differences between himself and his brothers, mentioning, “My two brothers were married when they were 25 or something and to me it seemed like they were in a real rush to just um... to have kids and to be married and I could never understand it. It’s like they couldn’t wait to be old men... I think I’ll always be the weird Uncle Jon that’s got long hair and you know, is weird, but I’m happy with that (p. 10).” The men felt that others had bad reasons for having children, such as wanting someone to take care of them when they get old.

2. Having distant fathers

Having distant parents, particularly fathers, was a common theme. The men contrasted their fathers’ distant parenting approaches to what they felt would be ideal, such as, “being the guy who can change a nappy and hold the baby and be there (p. 10).” They believed that if they became fathers, they must be emotionally available, unlike their own fathers, hence making the decision to have children a rather big one.

3. Losing their freedom or finances

Many of the men saw children as a threat to their freedom and to their financial security, sometimes describing their own desires as “selfish.” Some stated that they were not financially prepared for children. Yet, they contributed to society in other ways, such as “making a difference in the community (p. 11)."

4. Observing their friends’ bad experiences

Men used their observations of their friends’ negative experiences to justify their decisions to be childfree, naming consequences such as the loss of a sex life and dealing with poorly behaved kids. None of the men named any positive observations of their friends’ experiences with raising children.

5. Fears about the world

The men stated that it was not suitable to bring a child into a “cruel” world. Other concerns included “overpopulation,” “an energy crisis,” and “climate change” (p. 11).

Interestingly, the men felt that external pressures were not a major force in their decision to be childfree. Some men had given little thought to the idea of having children, and deduced from there that they did not care for them. Yet, the men seemed to actively avoid “the talk” with their long-term partners, seemingly due to fear of losing them. While society, family, and friends were rarely seen as influencing factors of their childfree identity, at the time of the interview, some men had been swayed by their partners to either have kids or not have kids. 

Despite the many reasons to remain childfree, the researchers concluded that “the door is still ajar” for these men. Intriguingly, all of the men had responded to the survey question, “Do you hope to have children in the future?” with “Not at all” (p. 4), but they did not seem fully committed to this decision. The men spoke positively about their personal experiences with children, such as their nieces and nephews, and noted that their views could change in the future. A participant with a vasectomy even mentioned that if his wife got pregnant, they would keep the baby.

The researchers suggest that the men’s flexibility may work as a protective mechanism, keeping them happy with whatever happens. They conclude that the decision to be childfree can be fluid for many men, and does not seem to be as integral to their identity as it is for childfree women in past studies.

Ironically, as noted by the researchers, many of the reasons that the men name for being childfree—such as wanting to be prepared, wanting to protect their child from the dangers of the world, and wanting to be emotionally available for the child—are hallmarks of good parenting.

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