For many people, choosing whether or not to have kids is difficult. It’s not a decision that’s typically taken lightly—which is certainly a cultural shift.
In the past, people didn’t necessarily choose to have kids; they were simply expected to do so. However, as gender norms become more fluid, societal expectations change, and more women have financial freedom, many people are opting out of parenthood.
COVID Is Not Fully To Blame
As an elder millennial, I’m part of the generation that is having fewer babies than any other in American history. A 2015 study from The Urban Institute found that from 2007–2012, birth rates declined by more than 15 percent for women in their 20s.
Since 2007, birth rates have continued to fall, and a COVID-19 baby bust even occurred in 2021. While the pandemic may be one reason why birth rates are on the decline, there are plenty of other factors at play.
Financial stress is one major reason why millennials are opting out of parenthood. According to a 2020 survey from Morning Consult, nearly 3 out of 5 millennials without children chose not to have kids because it’s just too expensive. From childcare costs to education and even basic everyday items such as groceries, raising a kid certainly takes a financial toll.
Plus, let’s not forget how much it costs just to have a baby! For couples and single parents, birthing costs can put a strain on their wallets. According to the University of Michigan, the average mother in the U.S. paid over $4,500 for labor and delivery in 2020—and that’s with health insurance!
Even when finances aren’t a struggle, some people choose to forego having kids due to environmental concerns and overpopulation. Although I’m a parent to three girls, I opted out of childbirth partially due to overpopulation concerns. Since there are plenty of children who already need a home, adopting domestically was the route I chose.
While overpopulation, famine, war, and the state of political affairs are just a few reasons why some choose to remain childless, many people remain childless because it makes them happier. Although this outlook is often seen as self-centered, it’s more than a valid response. In fact, some people are simply more fulfilled without the extra stress of parenting.
As it turns out, data proves this to be true. Behavioral scientist and happiness expert Paul Dolan has previously shared evidence that young women are happiest without children or a spouse. More than 50 years earlier, a 1977 study published by Carnegie Mellon University said that couples without children tended to be happier than those with children.
One person who admits to not having kids because she’s happy without them is author and journalist Anne Helen Petersen. The author shared on her own website that her primary reason for being childless is due to our society “being incredibly hostile to mothers and working mothers in particular.”
However, she went on to say, “The other reason is that I am also very happy without kids.” It’s a sentiment more and more people have.
While being childless makes some people happy, others opt out of parenthood due to their mental health. In fact, some millennials choose to remain childless because they don’t want to pass their genes to the next generation.
How Does Mental Health Factor Into The Decision?
When The Atlantic asked readers to divulge if their mental health has been a factor in deciding to have kids, one reader shared, “As an adult, I realize that I inherited [my mothers’] same level of anxiety—but I have spent a lifetime developing strategies and practices to manage it…Nevertheless, I am fairly certain, just based on how much I worry about our dogs, that having children would exacerbate my anxiety in ways I would probably not be able to control, and in a way that is likely to burden my children.”
Perhaps another reason that’s often overlooked is the way most people parent today. Instead of fitting a child into their life, parents often find themselves fitting themselves into their child’s schedule.
From soccer games to piano recitals and chess tournaments, parents often schlep their kids around in the family minivan for what feels like a never-ending road trip. Plus, it’s a daunting task for anyone to figure out how to dedicate so much of their time to a child, let alone multiple children.
The thing is, as more and more millennials and Gen Zers opt out of parenthood, there aren’t enough babies to keep up with the current rate of population growth. In 2020, the CDC released data showing that women now have 1.71 children, though the optimal number is 2.1 babies to maintain the population.
As millennials begin to enter midlife, only time will tell if Gen Z will pick up the slack to maintain America’s population. Then again, maybe a population decline is on the horizon.