A Quarter of Adults Don’t Want Children, and They’re Still Happy

Summary: Study reveals few differences in life satisfaction and limited differences in personality traits between those who are child-free and those who are parents.

Source: Michigan State University

Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys, right? Not for everyone. New research from Michigan State University psychologists examines characteristics and satisfaction of adults who don’t want children.

As more people acknowledge they simply don’t want to have kids, Jennifer Watling Neal and Zachary Neal, both associate professors in MSU’s department of psychology, are among the first to dive deeper into how these “child-free” individuals differ from others.

“Most studies haven’t asked the questions necessary to distinguish ‘child-free’ individuals — those who choose not to have children — from other types of nonparents,” Jennifer Watling Neal said.

“Nonparents can also include the ‘not-yet-parents’ who are planning to have kids, and ‘childless’ people who couldn’t have kids due to infertility or circumstance. Previous studies simply lumped all nonparents into a single category to compare them to parents.”

The study — published June 16 in PLOS ONE — used a set of three questions to identify child-free individuals separately from parents and other types of nonparents. 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.

“After controlling for demographic characteristics, we found no differences in life satisfaction and limited differences in personality traits between child-free individuals and parents, not-yet-parents, or childless individuals,” Zachary Neal said.

“We also found that child-free individuals were more liberal than parents, and that people who aren’t child-free felt substantially less warm toward child-free individuals.”

This shows a happy couple riding a bicycle
Beyond findings related to life satisfaction and personality traits, the research unveiled additional unexpected findings. Image is in the public domain

Beyond findings related to life satisfaction and personality traits, the research unveiled additional unexpected findings.

“We were most surprised by how many child-free people there are,” Jennifer Watling Neal said.

“We found that more than one in four people in Michigan identified as child-free, which is much higher than the estimated prevalence rate in previous studies that relied on fertility to identify child-free individuals. These previous studies placed the rate at only 2% to 9%. We think our improved measurement may have been able to better capture individuals who identify as child-free.”

Given the large number of child-free adults in Michigan, more attention needs to be paid to this group, the researchers said.

For example, the researchers explained that their study only included one time point, so didn’t examine when people decided to be child-free — however, they hope forthcoming research will help the public understand both when people start identifying as child-free as well as the factors that lead to this choice.

About this psychology research news

Source: Michigan State University
Contact: Caroline Brooks – Michigan State University
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Open access.
Prevalence and characteristics of childfree adults in Michigan (USA)” by  Jennifer Watling Neal and Zachary Neal. PLOS One


Abstract

Prevalence and characteristics of childfree adults in Michigan (USA)

Childfree individuals choose not to have children, which makes them a distinctive group from parents who have had children, not-yet-parents who plan to have children, and childless indivduals who would have liked to have children.

Most research on parental status and psychosocial characteristics has not effectively distinguished childfree individuals from other non-parents or has relied on non-representative samples.

In this study, we use a representative sample of 981 Michigan adults to estimate the prevalence of childfree individuals, to examine how childfree individuals differ from parents and other types of non-parents in life satisfaction, political ideology, and personality, and to examine whether childfree individuals are viewed as an outgroup.

We find that over a quarter of Michigan adults identified as childfree. After controlling for demographic characteristics, we find no differences in life satisfaction and limited differences in personality traits between childfree individuals and parents, not-yet-parents, or childless individuals.

However, childfree individuals were more liberal than parents, and those who have or want(ed) children felt substantially less warm toward childfree individuals than childfree individuals felt toward each other.

Given the prevalence of childfree individuals, the risks of their outgroup status, and their potential role in politics as a uniquely liberal group, it is important for demographic research to distinguish the childfree from others and to better understand these individuals.

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  1. I wanted to have children, but after having a child centered job for many years I decided that was my contraception

    I also felt that I wanted to get married before having kids, and as I got older, I am perfectly fine with my nieces and nephews. There are enough children out there that can use some love

    In fact, a lot of childless individuals work with children and in a way have more children than they could ever hope for.

  2. Do you not see the irony in selfish childless people giving advice and opinions on raising children, when they have no concept of what it means to raise a child?
    I don’t begrudge ones selfish choices, but you should keep your lips together when talking about raising children if you don’t have a clue about raising children.
    Said the child, “I hate children…”

  3. Selfishness exists in many forms around the world, all with consequences. I’m guessing a study on selfishness would show 30 to 60 year old childless children are far more selfish than the parents that raised them

  4. Some may say:
    Ah well, it’s probably better that they are out of the gene pool. A dead end.

    . . . makes ya think.

  5. I am 69, married, childfree by choice. I got fixed in my early 20s. I made my decision based on the financial costs of Parenthood and my desire to do what I want when and how I want.

  6. Happy and carefree until they’re older, cant drive or lift things, and have noone to name as an emergency contact.Your friends might die before you, or become disabled as well.

    1. Children are not guaranteed to be caretakers when the parents get older. Children are not a valid retirement plan. I would imagine child-free people would also have more money to save and put towards future care needs having not had to spend a large amount of their income raising children.

    2. this is a common concern, but it doesn’t match up with reality. any nursing home worker will tell you that elderly parents are on their own 90% of the time.

      besides, it takes 200k+ to raise a child in the west. investing that plus interest can pay for a nurse when you’re older.

      I appreciate that this article highlighted the one sided grudge against childfree people.

    3. Yes, children guarantee someone to take care of you in their old age. That’s why nursing homes exist… eye roll

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