Home Family & Relationship 20 Reasons Why Child-Free People Choose Not to Have Kids

20 Reasons Why Child-Free People Choose Not to Have Kids

Published: Last updated:
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Childlessness in adulthood is becoming increasingly common around the world. There are two types: involuntary and voluntary. Unfortunately, many people who would love to have kids struggle with infertility, or they’ve yet to find the right situation where childrearing would be more feasible.

The point of this piece is not to pass moral judgement on anyone’s reproductive choice, and I don’t believe that one decision is better or worse than the other. Also, some people are not given much of a choice, for example, they lack access to abortions or contraceptives or are pressured into keeping an unborn baby. If you’re on the fence as to whether to have kids or not, the book The Baby Decision: How to Make the Most Important Choice of Your Life, by social worker Merle Bombardieri, may help you come to a final decision that you’re happy with.

In any case, to differentiate themselves from the involuntarily childless, the childless-by-choice sometimes identify as “child-free”. A casual stroll along the internet superhighway provides much insight into their motives. There are myriad, nuanced, and varied reasons people choose to ignore the biologically and socially conditioned urge to reproduce.

It’s also important to note the following: Although certain online child-free communities can sometimes veer toward the toxic, as evidenced by comments by members who actively hate children and/or parents, the vast majority of child-free people do not hold these sentiments. They just want to bond with others who’ve made the same life(style) choice.

For example, because most human cultures (even progressive ones) are heavily pronatalist, the child-free may face stigma and discrimination from society or family, depending on their individual circumstances. So, it makes sense that the child-free like to share their reasons and experiences with one another. Lastly, the intention of this piece isn’t to add to the (already immense) guilt that many parents feel; it’s just to explore motives behind the child-free choice.

1. They just don’t want kids

The life script for many of us includes this assumption about finding a partner and having at least one child. On some level, conscious or unconscious, a lot of us go along with the life script without really questioning it much. Just not wanting kids is a valid reason on its own, and it doesn’t need to be justified or explained. Actually, some child-free people believe the onus is on the pronatalists to explain why they want kids, not the other way around. Reading books like The Baby Decision can help you and/or your partner to dig deep and decide whether it’s the best choice for you. (Not a sponsored post, I just thought the book was good.)

2. They think every reason to have a child is selfish

It could be that someone wants a child to give their life more meaning and purpose. Or they want to fit in with their peers or cultural norms. They want someone to look after them when they’re old. They want a mini-me. They want to please their partner, family, society, or religion. They want to pass on what they’ve learned. They’re scared of being unfulfilled and lonely. They want to relive the joys of childhood. They want to contribute to society by ensuring there are enough workers to support an ageing population (but, seriously, who has kids for that reason?).

Some child-free individuals may argue that all these reasons, even the “contributing to society” ones, are driven by selfish desires (for example, a person doesn’t want to feel guilty or ashamed by not contributing a child). Setting aside serious cases where the birth is more or less forced or coerced (not really a choice), one could say that every motive for bringing another human life into existence is a selfish, self-centred one.

3. They don’t believe ‘family legacy’ is a strong enough motive

How many of us can name our great-great-grandparents? Some people fear that if they don’t reproduce, their family line, name, or legacy will die out. But looking more broadly, we are all part of the same “family” of humanity, with the same ancestors back in Africa. To put it a bit less sensitively: Probably, nobody really cares about your family name/legacy except for you and your circle.

4. Children are expensive

I remember a funny meme that went like this: “Plants are the new pets. Pets are the new kids. Then what are kids? They’re like exotic animals; you need to be rich and weird to have them.” Of course, many parents (those with human offspring!) consider the satisfaction, fulfillment, and love they receive from childrearing to be priceless and worth every penny. And they would do it again in a heartbeat, even if the cost of living continues to rise.

But now let’s look at the latest cost estimates: According to a 2022 Investopedia piece, the average middle-class American family with two children will spend around USD$310,000 (about £243,000 or nearly half a million Australian dollars) raising a kid born in 2015 to age 17. That’s with an inflation rate of 4% up to 2032. UK data backs this up, with a 2022 article stating that the cost of raising a child up to age 21 stands at around £230,000, representing an increase of 37% in a decade.

Nowadays, women of childbearing age fall into the Millenial and Gen Z generations (and also the Xennial cohort), who have always had other economic issues to grapple with, minus the price tag attached to children. Understandably, the steep cost of childrearing is a significant factor influencing the child-free choice. And even if kids were less pricey, many people just enjoy their disposable income and would rather spend, save, or invest it otherwise.

5. They don’t want their relationship to be affected

Many individuals are fortunate: They’re in a stable, happy, long-term relationship before the topic of potential reproduction arises. But as soon as the wee-one is born, this precious dynamic is highly likely to change, or you could even say “suffer”, for most couples.

A bunch of research has delved into the issue. For instance, this investigation followed 218 couples during the first eight years of marriage to examine how birth and childraising impacted parental relationship quality. The cohort of fathers and mothers experienced “sudden deterioration” in relationship quality following birth. And the deterioration rate was “nearly twice as steep” compared to the group without kids. While this decline was only small to medium in size, it tended to remain the same for the rest of the study.

6. Intensive parenting is demanding (especially for mothers)

Worldwide trends indicate that parents in wealthier regions are choosing to have fewer children while at the same time investing more time, energy, money, and resources into them. This trend could be explained by the higher standards of living that many populations now enjoy. Thanks to modern medicine and societal advancements, children have a far greater likelihood of surviving to a reproductive age than in the past, so there is less evolutionary drive to pop out a lot of kids (thereby ensuring that at least one of them will make it). In rich contemporary societies, this translates to fewer kids but with more expectations placed upon them, and the parents.

This social phenomenon has given rise to intensive parenting. It calls for a lot more involvement in your kids’ lives than in previous generations. And a lot more extracurricular activities. These pursuits are pricey, of course, which means that lower-income families are excluded, as discussed in an insightful article titled The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting. Relatedly, the expectations of perfection placed upon modern mothers are so damaging that it’s all been dubbed “the cult of perfect motherhood”. Whatever they chose to do or not to do, they will be criticised by some camp (the whole silky/scrunchy/crunchy mum thing).

So, broader sociocultural and economic trends are other reasons certain people choose not to reproduce. And this modern-parenting discussion segways into the next one.

7. They value their freedom

Cherishing one’s personal freedom is often cited by the child-free as a reason they say no to kids. Contemporary parents must make countless decisions each and every day with their children’s best interests in mind. You could even say that their lives no longer belong to themselves – they belong to their children. If mothers and fathers are responsible, they will often subjugate their own desires to give their kids the best life possible (as one example, staying in less-than-ideal relationships).

Everything revolves around and needs to factor in “The Kids”, especially when they are very young and dependent. Holidays and vacations. Trips to the mall. Eating out at restaurants. Social events and gatherings. Errands. Illnesses. Work. Rest. Weekends. It’s probably not controversial to conclude that child-free people have much greater freedom than parents.

8. They value their alone time

I don’t think I really need to elaborate much on this, as it’s pretty self-explanatory. Kids eat up a lot of your money and your time. I will mention that I’ve noticed quite a lot of introverted parents commenting that they feel extra stressed (even more so than extroverts?) by young children needing so much attention and making a lot of noise and mess. Some have said they feel “touched out” by all the physicality of raising tiny humans. That’s just something for the highly sensitive introverts to think about.

9. They don’t want to pass on genetic conditions

Although some circles downplay the importance of biology, there are, undoubtedly, certain diseases, disorders, and syndromes that are influenced by genetics. These encompass both mental and physical health disorders. So, the desire not to pass on these conditions (including ones where the individual is a carrier of recessive genes) contributes to child-freedom in some cases.

10. Tokophobia: the dread of childbirth (and/or pregnancy)

Alternatively defined as the fear of childbirth and/or pregnancy, tokophobia involves “overwhelming” and “debilitating” dread. Like a lot of anxiety, it stems from feeling a lack of control over unknowns, unpredictable circumstances, and potential negative outcomes. But the mother also has their baby’s life to think about instead of just their own. This BMJ piece reminds us that the intensity of this anxiety exists on a spectrum, with tokophobia representing a significantly severe form of dread. It might be that a small portion of people bypasses having kids solely for this reason alone.

Other women are concerned about the negative physical (not to mention psychological) effects that can result from pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. This latter time frame has even been labelled the fourth trimester.

11. They worry about the environmental impact of having children

Eating a vegetarian diet. Air drying your clothes rather than using a dryer. Driving an electric vehicle. Choosing not to fly as often. There are so many ways we can reduce our individual environmental impact. But research has suggested that having one fewer child, especially in high-income countries, is likely the best way to reduce your “carbon footprint”.

This sensitive topic is “complicated by thorny economic, ethical, social and political issues”, as highlighted by a Mongabay piece. Moreover, other commentators disagree with the aforementioned conclusion, claiming that by the time one’s children and grandchildren are adults, stricter government environmental regulations will be in effect. Either way, the climate crisis is a strong motivator for some voluntarily childless people

12. They worry about the climate crisis

Following on from the previous reason, children around the world are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Like older and disabled people, they are a vulnerable population. Back in 2021, UNICEF wrote that around 850 million children (1 in 3 children) were currently at “extremely high risk” of experiencing climate-related hazards, with data derived from the Children’s Climate Risk Index.

When looking at the state of the planet, some child-free people worry that the environments that their children will inherit will not offer the same quality of life that they enjoyed. A child born in 2020 or 2030 probably has a good chance of living to see the year 2100. What will the world be like then? Even those in wealthy and prosperous regions are not immune to climate change.

13. They believe there are enough humans already

As over eight billion members of the Homo sapiens species roam the planet now (as of 2023), some voluntarily childless people think there are more than enough humans already. Rather than have more children, it may be more ethical to help the ones who already exist.

This is somewhat relevant to the prior points because climate change is anthropogenic, caused by our species. But while the climate crisis is often blamed on human overpopulation, it’s more accurate to cite overconsumption and ineffective resource usage as the real culprits driving environmental collapse (because certain populations generate far greater carbon emissions per capita). And be wary of eco-fascist beliefs, such as the notion that only particular subsets of people should stop reproducing.

14. They would rather adopt or foster a child

Around the globe, scores of kids are waiting for adoptive or foster parents. As was touched upon in the last point, quite a few child-free people conclude that it’s more beneficial to give these kids a better life than to bring another one into existence.

However, while it may make sense ethically, adopting is not exactly an uncomplicated process in many instances. Often, individuals or couples need to meet numerous requirements to adopt, especially in the case of international adoption (for example, they may need to be married, be within a certain age bracket, earn a certain income, and have no history of significant mental health problems, etc.). The process can take years. It can also be expensive.

15. They had traumatic or unhappy childhoods

When people think about reproducing or they become new parents, they often reflect upon their own childhoods and the relationships they had with their parents. (There’s a fantastic podcast called Motherhood Sessions by reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks that covers the emotional journeys that mothers take.) The sad reality is that, while everyone’s parents do the best they can at the time, many adults carry wounds from their upbringings with them throughout their lives.

Some child-free people are concerned that they’ll replicate the dynamics they had with their own parents, or unintentionally neglect or let down their kid(s) in some way. Those who were abused or traumatised may not view childhood or parenthood with rose-tinted glasses, which leads to the next point.

16. Children are vulnerable to abuse of many kinds

Physical abuse. Emotional abuse. Sexual abuse. This is a heavy topic, but research indicates that a high percentage of children are exposed to a range of traumatic life events. Even if a parent comes from a stable, pleasant background, they cannot always be there to protect their kids from various forms of abuse directed at them by other adults and children. Not to mention the bullying and power plays that continue into adulthood.

17. Some parents are regretful (a taboo topic)

One reason the internet provides thought-provoking insights into taboo topics is that it’s possible to be relatively anonymous. So, many members of online forums have used the safety of anonymity to express feelings of regret over having kids. A few forums dedicated to the issue have popped up over the years (such as Regretful Parents and I Regret Having Children). Some of these cases may be influenced by post-natal depression, other psychological conditions, or adjustment difficulties, but others definitely are not (such as this post where the author explicitly states she is not experiencing post-partum depression but straightforward regret).

Additionally, other commentators have used their real names and identities in discussing their personal parental regret. And there is an interesting book based on a sociological study of maternal regret: Regretting Motherhood by Orna Donath. Overall, fear of parental regret influences some of the childless by choice.

18. They think it’s narcissistic to have biological children

Related to the “family legacy” and “adoption” reasons, desiring your own biological kids above all others can come across as a bit self-centred to certain folk. Maybe it’s seen as just wanting a “mini-me” whom you expect to be exactly like yourself and/or your partner (looks like me, acts like me, has the same interests and beliefs as me, etc.).

While we’re on the topic: The terms “narcissist” and “narcissistic” are thrown around a lot nowadays, but the truth is that only about 1%–5% of the general population actually has a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder. A lot more people have traits of narcissism.

It could be that narcissistic parents often love little kids because, for survival reasons, children look up to and admire their parents, viewing them as all-powerful, almost God-like beings who can do no wrong. Nevertheless, when these kids reach their teenage years and start questioning their narcissistic parents’ confabulations, lies, and egotism, perhaps they fall a bit out of favour with their parents.

19. They are antinatalists

Antinatalism is the philosophical belief that reproducing is ethically wrong because life is full of different kinds of suffering, many of which are inevitable. Further, it’s impossible to gain consent from an unborn person, so each of us has life imposed upon us by our biological parents. Some antinatalists view this as playing Russian Roulette with someone else’s life. While painful emotions, physical ailments, interpersonal conflict, age-related changes, and dying are inevitable, every individual is at varying degrees of risk for increased pain and misery based on the interplay of numerous factors that their parents cannot foresee or predict. (Maybe antinatalists may be more prone to depression and other psychological disorders.)

Here’s the disclaimer: It is very important to remember that while antinatalists seek to decrease the amount of unnecessary human suffering through not reproducing (harm reduction), this definitely does not mean they advocate for ending existing life.

20. They don’t see themselves as parenting material

It’s a beautiful thing that human diversity includes so much variation in personality traits. But while we can all probably think of people who are “made to be” parents, and would be fantastic role models, plenty of childless people view themselves as not really suited to take on the enormous responsibility of rearing a human from infancy to adulthood. It is a big ask. Many individuals are self-aware enough to realise that such a challenge may be too much for them, especially given the increasing demands placed upon parents – in particular, mothers.

Final thoughts

Whether you are a parent, a would-be parent, a one-day parent, on the fence, casually child-free, staunchly child-free, or a diehard antinatalist, I hope you’ve found this piece to be thought-provoking and non-judgemental. I also hope that it inspires those on the fence to reflect upon their reproductive choices.

Monique Moate is a writer, editor, wife, cat mum, and night owl who enjoys writing about a wide range of topics. She cares about mental health awareness and destigmatisation.


© Copyright 2014–2034 Psychreg Ltd