Zachary Neal is an associate professor of psychology and global urban studies at Michigan State University, and serves as the editor of Global Networks, and Evidence & Policy. He is the author of four books and over 90 peer-reviewed journal articles. Together with Dr. Jennifer Watling Neal, they have been investigating the childfree community, focusing on identifying how many adults choose to be childfree, when they decide, and the positive and negative consequences of that decision. In addition to this work, he also studies neighborhood satisfaction and develops statistical models for understanding social networks.
More than One in Five Adults Do Not Want Children
There has been a lot of discussion about falling fertility rates in the United States and other western nations. While these trends indicate that fewer women are having children, they don’t tell us much about adults’ desire for children.
In a study of 1500 adults in Michigan, we found that nearly 22% – over one in five – are childfree. That means they don’t want to have children, ever. In addition to these people who know they don’t want children, another 10% haven’t decided yet.
These data come from Michigan. However, Michigan is demographically and politically similar to the United States as a whole. If the pattern we observe in Michigan reflects national trends, this would mean 50 to 60 million Americans are childfree.
We also found that childfree adults are making this decision early in life. Most decided in their teens and twenties that they didn’t want children. And, the data suggests they don’t change their mind later. Many of the childfree women in our sample decided in their teens – they’re much older now, and still childfree.
Reproductive rights are important for all people. However, access to contraception and abortion is especially important for childfree adults. As these rights are eroded, many Americans could be forced to have children despite not wanting them.
We hope this work will let childfree people know they’re not alone, let undecided people know that being childfree is an option, and de-stigmatize the choice for everyone. We also hope that by sharing our data, we will encourage other researchers to look at this under-studied community.