New Study Confirms: 20% of Adults Don’t Want Children

Woman Gesturing No

The term “childfree” is used to describe individuals or couples who have made a conscious decision not to have children. This choice is often influenced by various factors, including personal preferences, lifestyle considerations, financial considerations, career aspirations, or concerns about overpopulation or environmental impact.

In the previous summer, Michigan State University researchers announced that approximately 1.7 million adults in Michigan, about one in five, have opted not to have children, hence living a child-free life. This figure was notably large, surprising many, and has since been confirmed by a subsequent study.

“We found that 20.9% of adults in Michigan do not want children, which closely matches our earlier estimate of 21.6%, and means that over 1.6 million people in Michigan are child-free,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, MSU professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Michigan is demographically similar to the United States as a whole, so this could mean 50 million to 60 million Americans are child-free.”

The new study published in PLOS ONE attempted to replicate the original study by using the same methods, but with a new sample of people. The researchers used data from a representative sample of 1,000 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, conducted by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. To avoid any risk of cherry-picking results, the researchers preregistered the study by recording in advance exactly how the study would be conducted and what they expected to find.

“Many adults are child-free, and there do not seem to be differences by age, education, or income,” said Zachary Neal, associate professor of psychology at MSU and co-author of the study. “However, being child-free is somewhat more common among adults who identify as male, white or who have always been single.”

Some express concern that child-free adults will regret the decision not to have children, especially later in life. But Watling Neal explained “We found no evidence that older child-free adults experience any more life regret than older parents. In fact, older parents were slightly more likely to want to change something about their life.”

Because so many people are child-free, the researchers said this group warrants more attention, particularly as reproductive rights are being eroded.

“States’ restrictions on reproductive health care may result in many people being forced to have children despite not wanting them, which is very concerning,” Neal said.

The research team is now examining whether abortion restrictions affect adults’ choice to be child-free and are expanding their work beyond Michigan to include other states and countries.

Reference: “Prevalence, age of decision, and interpersonal warmth judgements of childfree adults: Replication and extensions” by Jennifer Watling Neal and Zachary P. Neal, 5 April 2023, PLOS ONE.
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0283301

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