is a term used to describe individuals who neither have nor desire to have children
. An alternative term is childless by choice
. The choice not to procreate has been an option since the development of reliable birth control
, and has become more common since the 1960s. Few couples in non-industrialized countries choose to have no children. Childfree groups began to form in the 1970s, most notable among them The National Organization for Non-Parents and No Kidding!
. There have been a significant number of books written about the childfree, although quantitative academic research on this group is just now emerging.
The childfree are a diverse group of people, much like the reasons behind the choice not to procreate; however, childfree people tend to be less conventional, more highly educated, and professional. Despite similarities, childfree individuals do not share a unified political or economic philosophy, and most prominent organizations tend to be social in nature. However, there are a range of social positions related to the childfree that some choose to endorse. To this end, some political and social activism is starting to emerge from a subset of this population.
Etymology and usage
An individual who neither has, nor desires to have, children is known as a childfree individual. The term is distinct from the term "childless
." Because the suffix "-less" implies a lack, the term childfree has been adopted to differentiate those who choose not to have children from those who desire children but do not have them. Childfree persons assert that their lives are no less complete than the lives of parents.
The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry for the word "childfree", with the earliest example of the word dating from 1913.
The term "childfree" was used in a July 3, 1972 Time article on the creation of the National Organization for Non-Parents It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.
The term is sometimes capitalized in regular usage, e.g., "He describes himself as Childfree", and is often abbreviated as "CF".
The term "childfree" has not been free from political sensitivity. Some allege that the "-free" suffix is held to imply that children are inherently bad or unwelcome.
The National Organization for Non-Parents (N.O.N.) was begun in Palo Alto, CA by Ellen Peck and Shirley Radl in 1972. N.O.N. was formed to advance the notion that men and women could choose not to have children – to be childfree. Changing its name to The National Alliance for Optional Parenthood
, it continued into the early 1980s both as a support group for those making the decision to be childfree and an advocacy group fighting pronatalism (attitudes/advertising/etc. promoting or glorifying parenthood). According to its bylaws, the purpose of the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood was to educate the public on non-parenthood as a valid lifestyle option, support those who choose not to have children, promote awareness of the overpopulation problem, and assist other groups that advanced the goals of the organization.
N.O.N.'s offices were located in Reisterstown, MD; then Baltimore, MD; and, ultimately, in Washington, D.C.
The organization's most widely-distributed publication was "Am I Parent Material?" This publication is still in print and distributed by ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, CA.
N.O.N. designated August 1 as Non-Parents' Day.
Some of the early works on non-parenthood/childfree living include:
- "The Baby Trap" 1971 by Ellen Peck and William Granzig
- "Mother's Day is Over" 1973 by Shirley Radl
- "Pronatalism: The Myth of Mom and Apple Pie" 1974 by Ellen Peck and Judith Senderowitz
- "A Baby Maybe" 1975 by Elizabeth Whelan
- "Childless by Choice" 1975 by Jean Veevers
- "The Parent Test" 1978 by Ellen Peck and William Granzig
Just as a range of motivations exist for choosing to have children, a number of factors are cited for the choice to remain childfree:
Lack of desire for children
- Lack of a compelling reason to have children
- General dislike of the behavior of children
- Seeing the effects of children on family/friends
- Lack of maternal/paternal instincts
- Unwillingness to conform to the obligations of socially defined gender roles
- Contentment with enjoyment of pets
- Belief that childhood is too traumatic
- A general dislike of children
Personal environment and advancement
- Not wanting to sacrifice privacy/personal space for children
- Not wanting to sacrifice time for children
- Not wanting to commit to increased financial responsibility or burden Or unable to afford the costs.
- Belief that childbearing would reduce career advancement
- Fear of loss of employment or health insurance, for instance because of lack of parental leave
- Belief that parenthood will be disliked
- Belief that maintaining a certain level of emotional intimacy and physical intimacy with partner will not be possible with the presence of children
- Perceived or actual incapacity to be a responsible and patient parent
- Maintaining freedom of personal choice
- Prefer to maintain ability to change career or city of residence at short notice (spontaneous mobility)
Physical and health concerns
- Concern for safety of parent or child
- The risk that an existing medical condition, such as diabetes, depression or the development of ectopic pregnancy could result in a dangerous or difficult pregnancy, or difficulty in raising the child
- Fear of maternal or infant mortality
- Concern that the child would inherit a hereditary disease
- Low availability of high quality and affordable childcare
- Fear and revulsion towards the physical condition of pregnancy, the childbirth experience, and recovery (for example the erosion of physical desirability).
Belief that it is a generous act not to bring more people into the world
- Belief that one can make a greater contribution to humanity through one's work than through having children
- Belief that people tend to have children for the wrong reasons
- Belief that it is wrong to bring a child into the world if the child is unwanted
- Concern regarding environmental factors and/or overpopulation
- Opinion that a devotion to one's career negates good parenting, or that their particular career would prevent them from being a good parent
- Antinatalism, including the belief that it is inherently immoral to bring people into the world
- Feeling that this world is too awful to bring children into it.
- View of childbearing and resultant parenting role as a heteronormative social construct which subjugates by restricting lifestyle options and possibilities for personal advancement. Certain feminist and alternative positions espouse this argument.
Statistics and research
- A 2003 U.S. Census study found that a record number of women in the United States did not have children; 44% of women in the age group 15-44 fit that category.
- The number of these women who are without children is unknown, but the National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of American women of childbearing age who define themselves as childfree (or voluntarily childless) rose sharply in the 1990s - from 2.4 percent in 1982 to 4.3 percent in 1990 to 6.6 percent in 1995.
- Overall, researchers have observed childfree couples to be more educated, more likely to be employed in professional and management occupations, more likely for both spouses to earn relatively high incomes, to live in urban areas, to be less religious, to subscribe to less traditional gender roles, and to be less conventional.
- David Foot of the University of Toronto concluded that the female's education is the most important determinant of the likelihood of her reproducing. The higher the education, the less likely for her to bear children.
Controversy surrounding the childfree state segments into criticism based on socio-political or religious reasons.
The "selfishness" issue
Some opponents of the childfree choice consider such individuals "selfish
" for neither having nor wanting children. The idea behind this position is that, since one argument is that raising children is a very important activity (childfree author Virginia Postrel
calls it "the most important work most people will ever do"), not having children would therefore mean living a hedonistic, consumption-based lifestyle that makes no contribution to the world, only to the self.
There are two value judgments behind this idea: One is that individuals should endeavor to make some kind of meaningful contribution to the world. The other is that the best way to make such a contribution is to have children. For some people, one or both of these assumptions may be true, but others prefer to direct their time, energy and talents elsewhere, in many cases toward improving the world that today's children will inherit.
Childfree individuals sometimes respond to these accusations of selfishness by claiming that the act of having children can itself be just as or even more selfish especially when poor parenting creates many long term problems for both the children themselves and society at large. The decision to become a parent is often based on characteristically "selfish" and egotistical motives as well.
David Benatar argues that deciding to bring a child into this world does not have the potential person's interest at mind but it's the parents' own desire (to enjoy child-rearing) that is at the heart of such a decision. Hence a childfree person is no more selfish than a parent. In fact, it can be the case that a parent is more selfish for the above stated reason. (See also selfish gene theory).
There is also the question as to whether having children really is such a positive contribution to the world in an age when there are so many concerns about overpopulation, pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources. Some critics, however, argue that such analyses of breeding may understate the expected benefits of reproduction to society - e.g. a greater labor force, which may also provide greater opportunity to solve social problems as well - and overstate the costs.
Many childfree people are active in community volunteerism, are teachers, librarians, and authors of children's books. Service groups, community theaters, and even youth centers, benefit from the many hours of work given by childfree people. Some childfree relatives assist in providing tuition assistance to nieces and nephews seeking higher education or specialized training in an area of interest or talent (music, swimming, acting, or horseback riding lessons, for example). Childfree advocates point to these activities as evidence that the childfree can and do contribute to the support of children in the society in ways other than providing offspring themselves.
Some of the childfree believe that overpopulation
is a serious problem and question the fairness of what they feel amount to subsidies for having children, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit
(US), free K-12 education paid for by all taxpayers, family medical leave, and other such programs.
Others, however, do not believe overpopulation to be a problem in itself; regarding such problems as overcrowding, global warming, and straining food supplies to be problems of public policy and/or technology.
According to Brian Whitaker, writing in the The Guardian on 6 November 2004, "If fertility levels remained unchanged at today's levels, the current world population of 6.6 billion would rise to 44 billion in 2100, 244 billion in 2150 and 1.34 trillion in 2300".
However, the some have argued that this sort of conscientiousness is self-eliminating, so by avoiding reproduction for ethical reasons the childfree will only aid deterioration of concern for the environment and future generations.
Government and taxes
Some childfree people regard governmental or employer-based incentives offered only to parents - such as a per-child income tax credit, preferential absence planning, employment legislation, or special facilities - as intrinsically discriminatory, arguing for their removal or for their reduction to form a corresponding system of matching incentives for other categories of social relationship. Childfree advocates argue that other forms of caregiving have historically not been considered equal - that "only babies count" - and that this is an outdated idea that is in need of revision. Caring for sick, disabled
, or elderly
dependents entails significant financial and emotional costs but is not currently subsidized in the same manner. This commitment has traditionally and increasingly fallen largely on women, contributing to the feminization of poverty
in the U.S.
The focus on personal acceptance is mirrored in much of the literature surrounding choosing not to reproduce. Many early books were grounded in feminist theory and largely sought to dispel the idea that womanhood and motherhood were necessarily the same thing. Books and articles such as Burkett's The Baby Boon argued that childfree people face not only social discrimination but political discrimination as well.
There has been a large improvement in contraceptives
over the years. Some choosing to be childfree prefer sterilization
, however many have difficulty finding physicians
willing to perform sterilizations, especially when they are in their 20s. Some feel patronized about their reproductive choices with the additional suggestion that they might change their mind later in life and should leave this option open. This advice is motivated partly by the doctor's risk of lawsuits
from patients who do change their mind. However studies have shown that geriatric patients have more regrets about not being married, over not being a parent.
The Intrauterine device is another popular option for long term contraception, with lower startup costs and similar effectiveness to sterilization.
There has been a debate within religious groups about whether a childfree lifestyle is acceptable. Some religious conservatives
have stated that it is a rebellion against God
's will. In numerous works, including an Apostolic letter written in 1988, Pope John Paul II
has set forth the Catholic emphasis on the role of children in family life. However, the Catholic Church also stresses the value of chastity
in the non-married state of life and so approves of nominally childfree ways of life for the single. Some radical religious interpretations decry that any couple who marries with the intention of not producing children is not married within the church.
The Southern Baptist author R. Albert Mohler, Jr. says, "Couples are not given the option of chosen childlessness in the Biblical revelation. To the contrary, we are commanded to receive children with joy as God's gifts, and to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.", a position consistent with some Protestant denominations' condemnation of homosexuality, gay couples, and gay marriage. In response, there are new churches being formed with the childfree movement. For example, a group called The Cyber-Church of Jesus Christ Childfree is a group of Christians who feel the call to have no descendants by fleshly means, just as Jesus had none.
Other mainline evangelical Christians have more balanced views, as published in Today's Christian Woman in an article by Raymond Van Leeuwen entitled "Is it All Right for a Married Couple to Choose to Remain Childless?" He shows that Gen. 1:28 "Be fruitful and multiply," what people generally think of as the Biblical mandate to procreate, is really not a command formula but a blessing formula: "You shall be fruitful..." He writes that while there are many factors to consider as far as people's motives for remaining childless, there are many valid reasons, including dedicating one's time to demanding but good causes, why Christians may choose to remain childless for a short time or a lifetime.
Just as people with children come from all shades of the political spectrum and temper their beliefs accordingly, so too do the childfree. For example, while some childfree people think of government welfare to parents as "lifestyle subsidies," others accept the need to assist such individuals but think that their lifestyle should be equally compensated. Still others accept the need to help out such individuals and also do not ask for subsidies of their own.
There are suggestions of an emergence of political cohesion, for example the Australian Childfree Party (ACFP) being proposed in Australia as a childfree political party, promoting the childfree lifestyle as opposed to the family lifestyle. Increasing politicization and media interest has led to the emergence of a second wave of childfree organizations that are openly political in their raisons d'etre, with a number of attempts to mobilize political pressure groups in the U.S. The first organization to emerge was British, known as Kidding Aside. Despite becoming increasingly more numerous, vocal and organized, the childfree movement has not had significant political impact. Indeed, it is entirely possible that childfree advocates are simply making a lifestyle choice and do not have political intentions. It is also possible that childfree advocates do have political intentions, but their voices are not heard by child-centric cultures.
Portrayal in media
In the episode of Seinfeld, The Soul Mate, Elaine expresses her contentment with being childfree with a like-minded date, after being disgusted by a female friend's constant nagging at her to have a kid. Her date takes his position literally, by having a vasectomy. This prompts Jerry and Kramer to line up for the procedure as well, but they get cold feet at the last minute.
On an episode of The Simpsons, a childfree movement emerged after a children's concert caused havoc.
There is a growing corpus of slang terminology, some of it borrowed from other groups or pop culture. The terms are often derogatory in nature, generally focusing on names for bad parents ("breeder"), lifestyle choices ("baby rabies" as a reference to the strong desire to have a child), annoying parental behaviors (parents who blatantly attempt to solicit comments about their offspring are said to be "baby stalking"), and terms for the children themselves ("sprog," an old British term for children; "Bratleigh," and "crotchfruit" are amongst negative terms to describe children).
Disdain for the social construct of family is sometimes expressed through deliberate misspellings of related words -- famblee, moomie (often "moo" for short), duhdie, baybee, etc.
Positive terms are focused on well-behaved children and parents who demonstrate a willingness and ability to properly care for their children. Most of the positive terms for children ("angel," "darling," etc.) are common to most, and the most common one aimed at good parents is the "PNB" (Parent Not Breeder) label. Slang that has been used to describe childfree couples, especially those that are career-oriented, are DINKs (Double Income No Kids), or THINKERs (Two Healthy Incomes, No Kids, Early Retirement).
- The Baby Boon (ISBN 0-7432-4264-5) is a book by Elinor Burkett, published in 2000, which outlines a case against many privileges granted to parents (as opposed to non-parents) at various levels of society.
- Childfree and Sterilized (ISBN 0-304-33747-1) is a book by Annily Campbell, published in 1999, which describes the experiences of adult childfree women seeking sterilization in the UK.
- Maybe One (ISBN 1-86230-004-6) is a book by Bill McKibben, published in 1999, which describes the environmental impact of having children. While the book advocates one-child families, there is an obvious unspoken case for having no children.
- Reconceiving Motherhood: Separating Motherhood from Female Identity (ISBN 0-89862-123-2) is a book published in 1993 by Mardy S. Ireland PhD, a clinical psychologist, which explains why there is so much societal pressure to raise children and proposes new ways of theorizing female identity, beyond that of mother and how it can be viewed as an opportunity.
- The Childless Revolution (ISBN 0-7382-0674-1) is a book by Madelyn Cain, published in 2002, which describes the experiences of childless and childfree women, and their similarities and differences.
- Why Don't You Have Kids? (ISBN 0-8217-4853-X) is a book by Leslie Lafayette, published in 1995, an early treatise on the subject of modern-day childfreedom by the woman who founded one of its first groups, the Childfree Network.
- Without Child: Challenging the stigma of childlessness (ISBN 0-415-92493-6) is a book by Laurie Lisle, published in 1996, which probes some of the myths and the stereotypes that surround non-mothers.
- Childfree and Loving It! (ISBN 1-904132-63-4) is a book by Nicki DeFago, published in 2005, which deals humorously with the comments childfree people get and challenges the stigma attached to the choice to remain CF. First such book written from a UK viewpoint.
- Childfree After Infertility: Moving from Childlessness to a Joyous Life (ISBN 0-595-27438-2) is a book by Heather Wardell, published in 2003, which espouses the embracing of the childfree philosophy by couples who are medically infertile.
- The Chosen Lives of Childfree Men (ISBN 0-89789-598-3) is a book by Patricia Lunneborg, published in 1999. Based on interviews with 30 American and British men, challenges the stereotype that men without children are immature, selfish, and irresponsible. Finds nine main types, including workaholics, lifelong learners, early retirees, stress reducers, and men avoiding the mistakes of their parents. Argues that men should be active participants in childbearing decisions.
- Kindervrij Verklaard (ISBN 0-646-45361-0) is a book by Marije Feddema and Larissa van Berchum, published in 2005. This first-ever book on childfreedom that was published in Dutch, discusses the definition of the term childfreedom, pioneers and history, the taboo and prejudices, advantages and disadvantages, motivations, lifestyle and views on the future, and contraception and sterilization methods.
- Childfree Zone (ISBN 0-646-39494-0) is a book by Susan J. and David Moore, published in 2000. An Australian book that contains the experiences and opinions of over 80 child-free people aged between 22 and 60. It is not an academic study or statistical analysis, but a practical, readable and often amusing discussion of the decision to remain child-free.
- Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples without children by choice (ISBN 0-738-82262-0) is a book by Laura Carroll, published in 2005. it consists of interviews of over 100-childfree couples that demonstrate and assist in explaining the decreased desire to bring children into the world.
- You Assumed Wrong Childfree article in MacLean's Magazine