One in Five Adults Don’t Want Children, and They’re Deciding Early in Life

Summary: Researchers say over 20% of adults do not want children and intend to remain child-free. Most adults say they decided in their teens or early twenties to remain childless.

Source: University of Michigan

The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade paved the way for limits on abortion but also created uncertainty around the future of birth control.

This could have far-reaching implications for many people as a research team from Michigan State University found over one in five Michigan adults do not want children.

“We found that 21.6% of adults, or about 1.7 million people, in Michigan do not want children and therefore are ‘childfree.’ That’s more than the population of Michigan’s nine largest cities,” said Zachary Neal, associate professor in MSU’s psychology department and co-author of the study. 

The study — published in Scientific Reports — used a set of three questions to identify childfree individuals separately from parents and other types of nonparents. The researchers used data from a representative sample of 1,500 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, conducted by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Because different types of nonparents are impossible to distinguish in official statistics, Neal explained that this study is one of the first to specifically count childfree adults.

“People — especially women — who say they don’t want children are often told they’ll change their mind, but the study found otherwise,” said Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor in the psychology department at MSU and co-author of the study.

This shows a happy couple
Because so many people are childfree, the researchers said this group warrants more attention. Image is in the public domain

“People are making the decision to be childfree early in life, most often in their teens and twenties. And, it’s not just young people claiming they don’t want children. Women who decided in their teens to be childfree are now, on average, nearly 40 and still do not have children.”

The study was conducted in Michigan, but according to the 2021 census, Michigan is demographically similar to the United States as a whole. Because of this, Neal said, if the pattern holds up nationally, it would mean 50 to 60 million Americans are childfree.

“Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a large number of Americans are now at risk of being forced to have children despite not wanting them,” said Watling Neal. If further precedents are overturned and birth control becomes harder to access, many young women who have decided to be childfree may also have difficulty avoiding pregnancy.

Because so many people are childfree, the researchers said this group warrants more attention. They hope future work will expand beyond Michigan and will help the public understand both why people decide to be childfree and the consequences they experience from that decision.

About this psychology and fertility research news

Author: Kaylie Crowe
Source: University of Michigan
Contact: Kaylie Crowe – University of Michigan
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Prevalence, age of decision, and interpersonal warmth judgements of childfree adults” by Zachary Neal et al. Scientific Reports


Prevalence, age of decision, and interpersonal warmth judgements of childfree adults

Childfree adults do not want to have children, making them distinct from parents and other adults without children. However, they are difficult to study because they cannot be identified using conventional data on fertility.

We use data from a representative sample in the United States to examine the prevalence, age of decision, and interpersonal warmth judgments by and about childfree adults.

Our prevalence estimates suggest that childfree adults are quite common, comprising over one-fifth (21.64%) of the population.

Our analysis of age-to-decision suggests that most childfree adults reported that they decided they did not want children early in life.

Finally, our analysis of interpersonal warmth suggests asymmetric affective polarization among parents and childfree adults driven primarily by parent’s ingroup favoritism.

We discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of childfree adults and for future research on this historically overlooked segment of the population.

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  1. “They hope future work will expand beyond Michigan and will help the public understand both why people decide to be childfree and the consequences they experience from that decision.”

    What consequences? Money? Freedom? Career advancement? A clean house?

    I’m childfree and I haven’t experienced any consequences yet by age 37. I don’t anticipate any either.

  2. Nobody is forced to have children unless they are raped. Birth control is accessable and even if you do get pregnant there are many hoping to adopt that will pay all expenses. Why women would fight to have the terrible option of abortion, having your own flesh and blood ripped from you, is beyond me.i can only imagine it is fear. Children are our future. And childless adults will never know what they are missing.

    1. You’re forced to have children if the government imposes a new mandate that removes the option for abortion. Birth control is accessible but that won’t last if conservatives achieve their agenda. Numerous republicans have already publicly said they are in favor of banning birth control. Besides that birth control is expensive and you’ve conveniently ignored that it fails from time to time. Even taken properly birth control fails sometimes. There’s more than 400,000 kids rotting in the foster care system, if so many parents want to adopt so bad they can start there.

      Questioning why women would for the right to abortion is like wondering why slaves fought to be free. They don’t want someone else controlling their body. It comes down to bodily autonomy. Everyone has a right to make decisions about their own body and no one else can. Giving the government the power to seize control over a persons literal body is an insane overreach of big government power.

      “Children are our future” is a meaningless statement considering that people will always still have kids. Further more, if children are our future than the smart thing to do would be for kids to be born to parents who actually want them, instead of what you get by forcing people to have kids.

      You say that parents without children will never know what they’re missing, like what? Years of sleepless nights? 10’s thousands of hours of free time gone? About $300,000 dollars gone? Raising a kid isn’t for everyone and you will only achieve more neglect, abuse and misery if you get your way and ban abortion to force people to have kids.

  3. Really is horrible to be forced to have children by limiting access to child birth pills etc, I dont even comprehend how can this be happening in a democratic country. Have they ever thought in helping people more by increasing for example the maternity leave, money, help women integrate with jobs after a long maternity leave etc Is like your state doesnt care at all about its people, they are treated like animals who can breed

  4. I call malarkey. Every dating profile 98-99% of dating profiles from women I see want kids or have them already.

    1. Thats because they’re all looking for a baby making partner. Self- selecting. Not an accurate study.

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