By: Ashley Thomaz
As a kid, did you ever think about your future? You probably envisioned a house, with kids and a spouse, but was that something you wanted or a future that was expected? Now as adults, millennials and Generation Z are considering not having children.
This trend of not having kids is on the rise due to concerns about climate change, financials and simply just not wanting to. Many millennials and Gen Z’ers who say they do not want children constantly hear statements like, Don’t you want to give your parents grandchildren? But who will take care of you when you’re old? You’re young — you’ll change your mind. Those who say this do not understand the generational change in how millennials and Gen Z’ers view the world and their own life.
“I wanted kids when I was younger because that was pretty standard. You grow up, get married and have kids,” says 21-year-old Malak Hamdon, “but as I got older I realized how much of a life burden having kids is in so many aspects: financially, emotionally, physically (especially for women).”
The COVID-19 quarantine has not increased the number of births. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported a 4% decrease in birth rates in 2020, which is the sharpest single-year decline in almost 50 years, and the Brookings Institution even predicts between 300,000 and 500,000 fewer births by 2021. “Birthrates had already been falling for over a decade, but it was striking how much the decline accelerated during the pandemic,” says Susan Vorsanger, a sociology professor at Mount Saint Mary College. “I think this was likely due to the increased social isolation, and people’s feelings of uncertainty, including economic uncertainty – there have been declines in the birthrate during other economic hard times such as the Depression.”
Opting out of having kids is not a new concept, but the idea being a movement seems to be growing; there is a rise of this childfree movement on TikTok. Hashtags like #childfreetok, #childfreebychoice and #nothavingkids have been around on social media, but within the past year, it has gained more popularity.
Samantha Osborne is an activist and comedian on TikTok, who has voiced her decision to to be childfree—voluntarily. She says, “I love my nieces, I love my nephew, I love kids, I really do. But I don’t want to be a mother.” Osbourne emphasises that her choice to not have children is okay, just like choosing to have children is okay.
Even those who are unaware of the #childfreetok are still deciding not to have children and understand why a trend like this would be gaining popularity. “I wasn’t aware of the trend, but I have noticed that me and my friends talk about how we don’t want kids,” says Sage Galati, a member of Gen Z, “I’ve seen stuff [like #childfreetok] on other social media platforms and it is definitely a thing Gen Z is talking about.”
One of the fast growing communities on Reddit is the “Childfree” page meant for people who do not want kids. People who are a part of this group don’t want to be told why they should have children, how much they’ll regret it, or how “selfish” they are. While this choice is becoming more common, it is still viciously questioned by older generations. In response to the whole “you’re too young to know for sure” argument, one comeback on Reddit reads, “I’m too young to decide I don’t want children, but somehow I am not too young to decide I do want children?”
The question of “to have or not to have children” has even reached politics. In 2019, representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stated on Instagram, “Basically, there’s a scientific consensus that children’s lives are going to be very difficult, and it does lead, I think, young people to have a legitimate question: is it okay to have children?”
Child care has become pricey (about $11,000 per year according to the Economic Policy Institute) and the post-pandemic economic recovery has been long-lasting. Nearly 3 in 5 millennials without children say they don’t have any because kids are too expensive. The average cost of raising a child through the age of 17 is $233,610 according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Money remains a major concern amongst Gen Z and millennials, especially when people are already faced with student loan debt. These same people want to own a house and with home prices rising faster than wages, having children seems to be yet another financial burden.
A decrease in people having children may not be solely bad or good news. It can symbolize progress in gender equity, yet also causing some economic distress to the United States. In an interview with Morning Consultant, Christine Percheski, a professor of sociology at Northwestern University said, “It’s about women having access to education and employment opportunities; it’s about the rise of women’s autonomy and a change in values.”
However, experts worry that the current baby bust will result in an economy where the older population is dominant and not replaced by enough young workers. This means there could be a higher government cost and a small workforce that would have to front the care costs for aging populations, creating a shortage of pension and social security funds. Vorsanger says, “Our population is aging, and while the main driver is longer life expectancy, a lower birth rate contributes to this trend.”
The trend of today’s baby bust seems unlikely to turn into a delayed baby boom and may even be (semi) permanent. According to the Brookings Institution, births in the United States are unlikely to rebound. The number of births a woman is expected to have fell from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.64 in 2020. Demographers are debating whether this trend will be temporary or permanent. “I think there’s a good chance the birth rate will bounce back at least a little from this historic low if the pandemic eases and the economy improves,” says Vorsanger. “Also Congress is on the verge of passing legislation that would greatly increase economic security for families with children, including monthly child tax credit payments, funding for more affordable childcare, paid time off from work for new parents. If that legislation passes it will be interesting to see if it has any impact on the birth rate.”
Will women end up having children later in life or none at all? Galati says, “I believe that if you have kids, it’s your duty to be there for them 100% of the time. I think raising kids is a lot more in depth than people make it out to be.”