A few months ago, Clara Chapman packed her van and drove to Arizona to work on her tiny house in the middle of the desert. Before the pandemic, she visited the Grand Canyon and Salem, Massachusetts, all in her van, which she purchased so she could pick up and go whenever she wants. People often wonder how she can travel on a whim. It helps that she’s child-free.
“I can’t explicitly give you a reason (why). It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that I’ve always wanted to be child-free,” the 34-year-old from Charleroi, Pennsylvania, told TODAY Parents. “I wasn’t geared towards having a family. That wasn’t anything that was interesting to me.”
She and her husband, Ryan Chapman, enjoy life with their three cats and their ability to do whatever they want whenever they want. When they got married, he got a vasectomy. Her loved ones understand she doesn’t want to have children. Sometimes Chapman receives pushback from people trying to convince her that she might change her mind and she bristles at the suggestion.
“I really want it to be normalized that people have different life expectations,” she said. “When someone tells you that’s what they want out of life there shouldn’t be a question about it.”
The Chapmans are not alone. A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that more adults report they do not want to have children — ever. About 44% of people ages 18 to 49 report it’s unlikely or “not too likely” that they’ll have children. In a 2018 survey, 37% of adults who weren’t parents shared those same thoughts. People who are already parents also note they’re not eager to have more children. A whopping 74% of parents under 50 have no plans to add another child to their lives.
To experts, this is not a surprise.
“This is a trend we have been seeing for years; the birth rate is declining. It was declining before the pandemic. We did not see a pandemic baby boom, like some people expected,” Christine Whelan, director of the Money, Relationships and Equality (MORE) center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told TODAY Parents. “Instead we saw a further decline during the pandemic, which makes sense because when you are concerned about your future — especially from a health perspective — then you don’t really want to bring children into the world.”
But the new data include something that hasn’t often been reported. More people are saying they simply do not want to have children for no reason in particular. About 56% so they just don’t want to have children while 43% provide another reason. The two most common reasons include medical and financial concerns.
“What’s interesting to me about this Pew data is the percentage of people who are saying, ‘I don’t plan on having kids because I just don’t want to,’” Whelan said. “This is an important first because that statement would not have been socially acceptable like 15 years ago. So the idea that it is socially acceptable now to say that is a big switch.”
Alaina Spanoudakis Davis never thought she’d get married or have children. She focused on her education and career as a middle school math teacher at Pittsburgh Public School District, where she has been a teacher for the past 18 years.
“It was definitely that I wanted to finish grad school and I wanted to get established and teaching and honestly in my group of friends the majority of them either didn’t have children or had like one child later,” the 43-year-old told TODAY. “We were more focused on education and professional (achievement) was what we talked about in terms of goals.”
Whelan said career is likely one reason that many women don’t want to have children. The pandemic showed how difficult being a working mother remains, especially in a country without paid parental leave or additional supports for families.
“The opportunity cost of having children is higher than it has ever been, especially for women,” Whelan said. “Women had to quit their jobs or try to juggle home school while also working from home.”
Some who don't have children feel like they have more time to devote to other interests, organizations, animals and relationships. Spanoudakis Davis focuses a lot of her energy on her students.
“I love my kids at school and I take a lot of their issues home with me,” she said. "I carry that and I can’t imagine getting home and having to turn that off and turn myself into being responsible for someone else."
Spanoudakis Davis enjoys life with her husband of five years. She travels and volunteers. Lately, she’s noticed that some parents even seem jealous.
“I feel like we’ve had more people who are almost envious of it than ever before,” she said. “People confide in us and say, ‘You guys are so lucky.’”
It’s likely that the trend of more child-free adults will continue. Even though baby booms often follow historical mass traumatic events, such as pandemics or World War II, for example, Whelan doesn’t anticipate the end of the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to a boom. What’s more, she thinks the survey results indicate that people don't feel optimistic about the years to come.
“They don’t want to make the sacrifice now to invest in an unknown future later. When we choose to have children, we know that we are choosing sleepless nights and heartache. But our hope is that we are choosing to bring hope and new life into the world and that things can be better,” Whelan said. “If you’re saying you don’t want to have kids what you’re saying is 'I enjoy my life right now … I don’t want to engage in the delayed gratification for an uncertain reward.'”