By Emily Reynolds
Birth rates are falling worldwide. The global fertility rate has halved since 1950, with signs that it will continue to decline. There are a number of suggestions as to why this is the case: women could, for example, remain in education or be employed instead of having multiple children, and many people around the world now have much better access to contraception.
But many adults also explicitly decide not to have children, but to be “child-free”. The child-free movement has grown rapidly in recent years: the r / Childfree subreddit has over 1.4 million subscribers, while media coverage has increased in the UK and US.
But do the childless miss out on the joys of parenting? According to a new study published in. has been published Plus one, that is not the case: childless adults are just as happy with their lives as their parents.
The participants, 1,000 adults from Michigan in the US, were either parent or childFewer (had no children, but wanted them) or childfree (had no children and did not want them). They filled out several scales, including measurements of life satisfaction and Big Five personality traits, before rating on a scale of 0 to 100 how cold or warm they felt about both women and men who never have birth or adopted children want. Finally, the team also collected demographic data, including information about the race, gender, education, age, political ideology, and relationship status of the participants – whether an individual was in a partnership, previously partnered (e.g. divorced, separated, or widowed), or single was.
Over a quarter of the participants were childless, the second largest group after their parents. At first it appeared that the childless participants had lower life satisfaction than the parents – but this difference disappeared after checking for gender, education, age and relationship status.
Childless participants were also more likely to be left or liberal compared to their parents. “No parents yet” – those who had no children but hoped for the future – were a little more pleasant than the childless participants, but there were no other personality differences between the groups.
The warmth towards childless women and men also depended on the educational status of the participants. Childless people felt warmer than childless women and men, while childless people and parents felt significantly colder.
A common refrain on forums like r / Childfree is that many parents insinuate – or directly say – that their childless counterparts couldn’t possibly be as happy as they are. This investigation seems to suggest that it is not. Despite the fact that childless adults are just as happy with their lives as parents, they are still viewed by others as an outgroup, with parents and childless people being significantly colder towards them than other childless people.
Further research could examine the various reasons people choose not to have children: In this study, personality didn’t seem to make much difference while political ideology did, so it might be interesting to examine the direction of this effect . Whether it’s finances, the environment, or gender roles, a closer look at the political, economic, and social factors that lead people to become childless could shed light on the complex components of deciding whether or not to have children.
– Prevalence and Characteristics of Childless Adults in Michigan, United States
Emily Reynolds is an associate at BPS Biomedarticles