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Choosing to be childfree

Many couples are choosing not to have children, opting to focus on the couple relationship instead. But, according to a new study, it’s not a decision they’re making lightly. The study [1] looked at how couples arrive at the decision not to become parents. The term ‘childfree’, as opposed to ‘childless’, refers to people who have chosen not to have children.

The study showed that the decision not to have children is usually a conscious one, rather than something that ‘just happens’. It’s usually something that’s arrived at over a length of time and it’s an ongoing choice. This is particularly true for heterosexual couples, who often have to choose to continue using contraception, and avoid unplanned pregnancy.

How is the decision made?

By the time couples are having their first conversations about children, they have often already given years of thought to the matter. If both know that they don’t want children, it may only take a single conversation to form an agreement.

Reasons for opting out of parenthood could include wider factors such as:

  • Increased reproductive choices. Since the feminist movement of the 1970s, more of us are free to make this choice in the first place [2].
  • More career options for women. Childfree women are more likely to be employed in professional and managerial positions [3].
  • Worry about jobs. In one study conducted during the recession of the ‘90s [4], many men said they had opted out of parenthood due to uncertainty in the labour market.
  • Wider society. Women in particular referred to concerns about overpopulation when discussing their decisions [5].

But many also cite more individual reasons such as:

  • Personal freedom.
  • More opportunity for self-fulfilment.
  • Keeping spontaneity, such as the opportunity to travel.
  • Making the most of adult relationships.
  • Experiences of other people’s parenting [6].
  • Focusing on the couple relationship.

Many couples cited their own relationship quality as a major factor in choosing to remain childfree [7]. We know from other studies that the transition to parenthood is one of the biggest hurdles for couples.

If you’re still undecided about whether you’re ready for children, or just want to know more, you might find it useful to read our article on managing this transition.

Whatever your choice, take the time to discuss it with your partner, so you both know what each other wants and why. Talking about big decisions like this allows you, as a couple, to work together and pursue a life path that suits both of you.

One of the childfree people in the study said:

‘‘I wish it were normal to decide whether or not you were going to have children’’.
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