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.”
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
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.