Some women are childless by circumstance, but evermore are childless by choice. And recent reports indicate that this trend shows no sign of reversing; rather the number of women without children is anticipated to rise. Just nine percent of women born in 1946 had no children, whereas that figure had risen to 17 percent for women born in 1970. Now, data out of Pew Research Center has found that the number of women choosing to forgo having children has doubled since the 1970s.
National data suggests that 15 percent of women and 24 percent of men hit 40 without having kids, and one in five women enter menopause without children, according to another study. But it’s not a generational thing. According to the Cassandra Report: Ages and Stages, one-third of millennials don't want to be mothers, either. Thirty-four percent of them don't want to give up their flexibility, while 32 percent don't want to take on the responsibility. In fact, 2016 population data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of births fell one percent from the year prior, bringing the general fertility rate to 62 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 (the lowest it’s ever been) — and that trend has been driven by a decline in birthrates for teens and 20-somethings.
Of course, there are circumstantial reasons as to why women aren’t having babies, too. On top of not wanting to give up flexibility or take on the responsibility of children, women are entering the workforce in larger-than-ever numbers, and millennials especially are faced with burgeoning debt coupled with rising costs of living. A recent Healthline study finds that over half of millennial women and men are delaying parenthood for career security and financial reasons, but they’re also not aware of the odds of conception challenges and the cost impact of postponing parenthood. Just 32 percent of millennials are aware that half of the population over the age of 35 will need medical intervention to have a baby, and there’s no guarantee that it will be successful, according to Sexual Health Magazine.
Other women just don’t see children in their futures, and not having children was never much of a decision or “choice,” anyway. But society hasn't yet accepted that, as illustrated in a recent sub-Reddit.
"JanuareeLeigh," for example, shared a now-viral post on the TwoXChromosomes sub-Reddit: "31 f here, have a career, a car, own property. Anti-monogamy, so I date around (women and men). Why is it that when men proudly state that they don't want kids, it's all congratulations and claps on the back, but for women it's 'You'll change your mind someday.' I get this from family, from friends, from strangers. The notion that men can know themselves while women are just sitting around waiting for their minds to change is sexist, misogynist nonsense. (And, no, anecdotes about your one friend who did change her mind aren't compelling or convincing.)"
Most commenters agreed with her. One wrote: "Military wife, and CF, you would not believe the bingo's I get for it. Apparently, you must have children if your spouse is active duty. What's the point in even living on base without children? That house could have gone to someone that needed it. Oh the dog has his own room? What about when you have children?! Where will they go if the dog has a room? You drive a coupe? Where [will] you put the car seat?!"
Another shared: "Somebody (a man) asked me just yesterday when I was having a baby yet. I asked him why he is always asking me this and he said ‘because it’s time.’ I’m 25 and I’m trying to get my own life together let alone a helpless being. It’s annoying [and] it makes me feel under pressure to decide if and when I want kids before it’s ‘too late.’ It does seem to only be people who have kids themselves who ask you things like this… You’re not alone if finding this attitude annoying."
One woman wrote: “I'm one of those who has never wanted kids, ever. I got sterilized in my early 30s. I don't have a maternal bone in my body — and never have. There are plenty of other humans who are ready and willing to keep this planet populated. They don't need me to contribute. It's not like the human species is in danger of dying out or anything.”
The Reddit poster later thanked commenters who understood her, but acknowledged how "the amount of resistance in the comments, although relatively small, [was] frustrating and really [highlighted] how some folks, men and women, can't wait to shut women down..."
"See, this whole 'I knew a woman who changed her mind so it's okay to assume that's going to be the case for all women' is nonsense," she wrote. "Women are not a monolith. I will literally never have kids."
Though ever more women are deciding not to have children, society as a whole still expects them to.
“My ex friend (child free) was interviewing for medical school and, during her interview she was asked, ‘What is your plan (career-wise) when you have kids?’” one Reddit user commented on the sub-Reddit. “Not if. When. Ignoring, of course, the complete ludicrousness of the question to begin with, surprisingly when she asked her male peers after she got in if they were asked about their having children preferences, not a single one said they were asked that question.”
Hopefully, as the language surrounding these lifestyle choices starts to change, as will attitudes.
Social scientists once referred to everyone who didn’t procreate as “childless,” which can indicate that they’d tried and failed to make babies. Now, however, they’ve mostly shifted to use the term ‘child-free,’ which gives women more credit for choosing not to have children.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.