1 in 5 adults still don’t want children – and don’t regret it later on

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Is child-free living becoming the new normal? It may have surprised many when Michigan State University researchers found that one in five Michigan adults (or about 1.7 million people) don’t want children. Now, a follow-up study is revealing nearly identical results, lending further support to the growing societal notion that the “American dream” doesn’t necessarily involve starting a family.

Notably, the research team adds that they’ve collected no evidence whatsoever indicating older adults who chose not to have children regret their decision.

“We found that 20.9 percent of adults in Michigan do not want children, which closely matches our earlier estimate of 21.6 percent, and means that over 1.6 million people in Michigan are child-free,” says study co-author Jennifer Watling Neal, an MSU professor of psychology, in a university release. “Michigan is demographically similar to the United States as a whole, so this could mean 50 million to 60 million Americans are child-free.”

Researchers did their best to replicate the original study from 2022 using the same methods in conjunction with a new sample of participants. Study authors utilized a representative dataset of 1,000 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, conducted by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Moreover, in an effort to avoid any risk of cherry-picking results, researchers preregistered the study by recording ahead of time exactly how they would conduct the study and what their expectations were.

Many adults are child-free, and there do not seem to be differences by age, education or income,” adds Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology at MSU and co-author of the study. “However, being child-free is somewhat more common among adults who identify as male, White or who have always been single.”

Newborn baby being held and kissed by parents
(Photo credit: In The Light Photography on Shutterstock)

No regrets?

Many believe that child-free adults will eventually come to regret their decision not to have children later on in life. Prof. Watling Neal, however, points out that “we found no evidence that older child-free adults experience any more life regret than older parents. In fact, older parents were slightly more likely to want to change something about their life.”

Considering how large the child-free demographic has become, researchers believe this group warrants more attention, especially during a time when reproductive rights are a divisive legal issue in the United States.

“States’ restrictions on reproductive health care may result in many people being forced to have children despite not wanting them, which is very concerning,” Prof. Neal explains.

Looking ahead to the future, study authors are now examining whether abortion restrictions affect adults’ choice to be child-free, and are planning on expanding their work beyond Michigan to include additional states and countries.

The study is published in PLoS ONE.

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John Anderer

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  1. Men should not be in this study as they can have children at any time. Regrets do not appear until the window of opportunity closes. So the “regrets” question should be asked of post menopausal women to be meaningful. This has biased the study to produce the desired results of the research.

  2. I’m childfree by choice and was ahead of my time. I never had that ‘maternal’ instinct and being around children for more than 5 minutes absolutely unnerves me. I don’t have the patience, don’t want the responsibility and don’t feel I would have made a good mother, whatever that is. I’ve never regretted it. Like finds like. I’ve known many women who never wanted children. We just stay away from those who do because we don’t want to attend the birthday parties, the religious parties, can’t really talk to the ‘famlies’ because they are all about ‘that’ and rightly so. Different strokes, for different folks. And no, I don’t worry about ‘later in life.’ Having a kid doesn’t guarantee anything.

  3. I’d like to see a companion study: “how many parents regret having children”…?

    There’s a taboo to never say that out loud, but I suspect a significant minority wish they never had a child

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