Not too long ago the traditional relationship timeline usually went something like this: first comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes a baby in a baby carriage. But now? While most people continue to seek companionship, more and more people are choosing to forgo that baby in the baby carriage.
According to a 2017 report by the National Center for Health Statistics, 3.8 million babies were born in the U.S. last year—the lowest number in thirty years and down two percent from 2016. That’s not surprising considering another study showed birth rates amongst women in their twenties declined by 15 per cent between 2007 and 2012. Additionally, according to the National Survey of Family Growth, about 15 percent of U.S. women and 24 percent of men don’t have any children by the age of 40.
If these recent studies are any indication, going childfree will continue to be a popular choice for both women and men. So why are people choosing to go childfree?
They want a more successful career
One study showed that nearly one-in-five American women enters menopause without children, with the most educated women—those with a master’s, doctoral or professional degree—being the most likely to never have a child. Perhaps now, for the first time in generations, women don’t have to neglect their careers for motherhood if they so choose. After putting years into schooling and getting established in one’s career, both men and women are deciding they would rather put their energy into their professional lives. After all, when you consider that Time researchers found it takes eight hours a day to parent two children up to the age of eighteen, where do the other hours go to work on your career, take care of yourself, and go to sleep? Sometimes something’s gotta give, and sometimes that’s having kids.
They want to be closer to their partner.
Let’s be honest: when kids enter a relationship, date night and alone time with your partner doesn’t happen as regularly anymore. More time and energy is spent on nurturing the child than it is on nurturing the relationship with your partner. Which is why it’s not entirely surprising that one study found that childless couples have happier marriages. The study from Open University found that people without children are more satisfied with their relationships and are more likely to feel valued by their partner than couples with children.
They want to be happy.
According to a 2016 study by researchers at Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University, parents in the U.S. are not generally as happy as those who aren’t parents. While the reasons found were related to the lack of workplace packages such as paid sick time, paid vacation, flexible hours, and maternal and paternal leave, respondents in a childfree study by Amy Blackstone, a sociology professor at University of Maine, offered another glimpse. One study participant noted, “A lot of people with children didn’t look happy…The majority were definitely stressed out. There was something there that was not inviting me to participate in this lifestyle process.”
They want to save the environment.
Some people think that choosing to go childfree is the most environmentally responsible decision. Having more kids would only contribute to the over-consumption and over-population crisis we already seem to be in. In fact, one study from Lund University in Sweden found having one fewer child per family can save “an average of 58.6 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions per year.” According to their research, “A U.S. family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives.”
While choosing to be be childfree is an entirely unique and personal decision that’s different for everyone, perhaps we’re most close to this unifying thought: that having children doesn’t have to be a necessary life experience. We can lead fulfilling, successful, and meaningful lives, in addition to having loving relationships, without a baby in the baby carriage. What completes one’s idea of a happy life doesn’t have to be the same for another. Because maybe there’s a puppy or a kitten in that baby carriage instead, and maybe that’s more than enough.