I spent the decade of my life between 25 and 35 reading everything I could get my hands on about whether to have kids — from childfree manifestos to essays by parents who couldn’t imagine their lives without having had children. I even briefly joined the social club No Kidding! to mingle with others who had either chosen not to have children or had chosen to live their fullest lives without having the children they wanted (although, I only met one couple for whom children were wanted and not had, in a year or so of attending events).
My thoughts on parenthood have always been a bit of a mystery to those around me because I love children. I started babysitting when I was ten years old, and kept at it until I was in my late twenties. I was a full time nanny through a professional agency for two years in DC, and fifteen years later, I’m still close with that family. I play auntie to friends’ children and there’s not much I love more than snuggling newborns. But despite all that — or perhaps because of it (since I know just how much work childcare can be) — I have leaned toward not having my own children since I was a teenager.
I’ve heard all the platitudes over the years: You’ll change your mind. You’re still so young. Your biological clock will catch up with you. And all the challenges: Who will take care of you when you’re old? Your life won’t be meaningful without children! You’ll regret your decision and then it will be too late!
One thing that has helped to legitimize my preference is that my husband and I have been a couple since 1999, so I’ve never had to suffer through the refrain, “You just haven’t met the right person.” He is happily childfree as well.
According to recent data, we’re not alone. Fertility rates for teens and young adults have been dropping for years, but they had been rising for women in their thirties and forties. That’s what happens when women put off having children in order to finish their educations, establish careers, and find partners they want to “scramble their DNA with,” to quote sex and relationship advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage.
But, in 2017, that pattern didn’t hold. Fertility rates dropped, not just for women in their teens and twenties, but also for women in their thirties. They ticked up slightly for women in their forties, but the number of births in that age group is so few that it barely makes a dent in the national total.
In fact, in 2017, the total fertility rate was the lowest it had been, at 1.76 births per woman, since 1978. And the number of births in 2017 was the lowest it had been since 1987.
This issue explores the latest U.S. fertility data and the real people behind it. There are stories of women who want children at some point, but aren’t prepared to have them now because of career and financial obstacles. There’s an interview with Leilani Münter, a race car driver and environmental activist who decided not to have children while in college. And there’s an interview with a professor of childfree studies who is childfree herself.
Whether we’re biological or adoptive parents, childfree by choice, or childless by circumstance, respecting each other’s reproductive decisions must be the basis of our efforts to stabilize population.