Living a ‘childfree’ life: 1 in 5 adults don’t want to have kids

“Women who decided in their teens to be childfree are now, on average, nearly 40 and still do not have children.”

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Are families about to find themselves on the endangered species list? Researchers from Michigan State University find that over one in five adults don’t want children. Interestingly, the survey also indicates that Americans are deciding against being a parent quite early in life, most often in their teens or early twenties.

“We found that 21.6% of adults, or about 1.7 million people, in Michigan do not want children and therefore are ‘childfree.’ That’s more than the population of Michigan’s nine largest cities,” says study co-author Zachary Neal, an associate professor in MSU’s psychology department, in a university release.

Study authors used just three questions to separate “childfree” individuals from parents and other varieties of non-parents. The analyzed data comes from a representative sample of 1,500 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, conducted by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

According to Prof. Neal, it’s impossible to distinguish between different types of non-parents using official statistics. So, this research project is among the first to focus specifically on counting adults who choose not to have children (childfree).

“People — especially women — who say they don’t want children are often told they’ll change their mind, but the study found otherwise,” explains study co-author Jennifer Watling Neal, an associate professor in the psychology department at MSU. “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.”

Over 50 million people want to avoid parenthood

While this study only included Michigan residents, researchers point out that Michigan is actually quite demographically similar to the United States as a whole — according to the 2021 U.S. census. If the trend in this survey holds up across the entire nation, that would mean roughly 50 to 60 million Americans want to stay childfree.

“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,” Prof. Watling Neal concludes.

Study authors add that if the courts overturn further precedents and birth control measures become harder to access across the U.S. it could result in more hurdles for many young women deciding to be childfree.

In conclusion, the research team believe childfree Americans deserve more attention as a growing demographic. They are hopeful that future research projects will do more to better understand why so many Americans are choosing to avoid parenthood, as well as the repercussions of choosing such a lifestyle.

The findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.

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