Childless by Choice: My Parents Made Me Do It

What motivates a man to get sterilized? Financial reasons, relationship issues—or something deeper?

The comments in last month’s column about Laura S. Scott’s research got pretty lively. This one gets my nomination for the Most Original Reason Not to Have Kids award:

I never liked children, and I never liked being a child, either. To me, being a child means being ignorant, powerless, and dependent upon others for all of one’s needs. To inflict such a state on another person, even if only temporarily, strikes me as immoral.

Holy crap. Never heard that argument before.

But another comment left by author Laura Carroll piqued my interest. After writing that men do have a lot to say regarding a couple’s decision to reproduce, she drops this:

A trend in men’s background is also the fact that they often observed their fathers struggle to provide for their families when they were growing up and the guys decided they did not want this as part of their adult life.

First question: are all childless-by-choice researchers named Laura?

Second question: is this Laura right? I called her to get more details.


Carroll tells me that several years ago she placed ads across the country seeking input from child-free couples married longer than 10 years. She focused on couples for several reasons, one of them being a lack of focus on men in previous child-free research. Her findings are published in Families of Two: Interviews With Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice; she blogs at

As she traveled the country collecting interviews and stories, she noticed a surprising trend: about two out of five guys mentioned the difficulty their fathers had in providing for their families.

“When they saw their father working two jobs or struggling to make ends meet, they thought to themselves even as boys that when they grow up they didn’t want to have a life like that,” Carroll says.

The sentiment wasn’t confined to seeing Dad’s troubles, either.

“The mother seemed to have her own struggles keeping up with raising the kids,” says Carroll. “And sometimes the boys got the feeling from their moms that they really weren’t happy.”

She emails me a typical response from Carlos, a man in his 40s:

I was a serious kid and became aware of political, social, and environmental issues at a young age. My parents loved us, and sometimes struggled to provide the materials things that kids need. I did not want to feel these kinds of pressures.

She adds that there was another related trend: “Many times they were either the oldest child or the only child,” Carroll says.

Carroll emphasizes, however that her information comes from surveys collected from over a hundred couples and shouldn’t be treated as “statistically validated data.”

Also of note, women typically offered different reasons for remaining child-free, including having to babysit younger siblings and exposure to an older female role model who didn’t have children.


Why do men offer up their parents as part of their reasoning? Carroll can only speculate.

“Sometimes we’re influenced to be just like them and sometimes we’re influenced to do what we pick up as what they wish they would have done,” she says.

I’m no social scientist, but I’m thinking this difference highlights stereotypical societal gender roles: boys may feel more pressure to earn money, so it naturally factors into their reasoning not to have kids. (Have fun with that one, commenters.)

So, while it’s not hard science, it makes you wonder just how much a kid’s home life plays into his own desires to become a father. After all, for every two men who mentioned their fathers, three didn’t.

In my family, Dad was the stay-at-home type. Sometime around my fourth grade, after years of him holding odd jobs at McDonald’s or casino accounting offices, Mom went off to nursing school. She came home with what was supposed a stable future for the family.

But in our rigidly patriarchal Mormon faith, God expects you to put bacon on the bread table. (Or however that saying goes.) Dad struggled for years to come up with a business idea that would allow him to fulfill his God-given manly duties. But as Mom moved up the nursing management career ladder, Dad’s income-generating plans fizzled out. Money got tight as the Cox clan grew from one to seven kids.

Now, years later, I want zero. Coincidence?


Carroll found plenty of the typical motivations for staying kid-free—financial cost, impact on a relationship, environmental reasons—but above all, the decision is emotional.

“Depending on how honest a person is about how they really, truly feel about it, that’s when those more objective reasons kick in,” she says.

“It works just for the opposite, that if we really wanted to have kids, we might be more apt to believe that we can come up with the money to raise the kids, that it would help our relationship be even better,” she explains.

“I just found that those more objective motives really supported what in the end is a heart-based decision,” she says. “If people get close to that, they get close to their answer.”

This certainly isn’t the last time this column will delve into this topic. I sent an email to the American Sociological Association hoping to find an academic familiar with the research on the child-free crowd. As I type this, they were still tracking down someone. Hopefully they find someone named Laura.

Stay tuned.

—Photo speckyfish2000/Flickr

About Ted Cox

Ted Cox has never been to a Turkish prison. He hates bad beer and writing bios in the third-person. Follow his writing and speaking gigs on


  1. Kids are a pain. I would rather enjoy my life than spend it tending to children. Life without kids is fun. I am free. I am not giving up this freedom just to give into a woman’s biological imperative. I got a vasectomy to be sure that I will retain my freedom. If I feel the need to play daddy then I will just volunteer until it goes away.

  2. John Drake says:

    I’m a 43 year old childfree male. I didn’t want kids because I like the freedom of being able to do what I want when I want to do it. I came from a controlling family in which for a long time, I didn’t have those very freedoms. I was often forced to go wherever my sister did because my parents didn’t want me staying in too much and my sister being upset because I never wanted to go anywhere with her. I’m something of a homebody and she was a go out and party person. Many young people like moving out on their own because they don’t like their parents giving them a curfew on how long they can stay out, I liked moving into my own apartment because I could stay in it anytime I wanted to without anyone saying anything about it.
    I admit I also avoided marriage for a long time for those same reasons, but have since met someone who doesn’t mind staying in over going out. I guess my main reason for wanting childfreedom was, freedom.

  3. CynicFan says:

    As a 49 year old non-parent, my views are made in retrospect rather than a promise about the future. Like many in my 20’s the idea of burdening my life with a complete and total dependent frightened me. I hadn’t spent much time around kids and they made me uncomfortable. I was 24 when a friend handed me her 6 month old child. I remember her rolling on the ground when she turned and saw the look of sheer terror on my face as I held this child at arms length as if it carried some fatal disease. However by my mid 30’s I was interested in having children, but was unable with my wife at the time. After that relationship ended, I sought relationships with women who were incapable of having children (either by age or surgery) because it was easier than getting trapped in a relationship due to an unintentional child. Fertile women were a trap to be avoided. Now that I approach my 50th year, its perfectly acceptable and okay that I don’t have children.

    I do feel it is unfortunate that generally responsible people chose not to have accidental children while the irresponsible and self absorbed don’t care whether a child occurs or not. It really angers me that the irresponsible then turn around to the Government and ask for my tax money to take care of their irresponsibilites.

    • I, too, am a non-parent. Age 55. I am however, the second of nine. And while I grew up around kids, infants STILL unnerve me. No, I did not help raise my siblings. I knew since I was 4-5yo that I was not having kids, long before the rest of them showed up. From age 15, I kept an after school job to avoid having to interact with them.

      Like the author, I did not being a kid nor did I like kids. I do distinctly remember being 7 and watching my parents prepare for a family trip to the beach. My father took a shower and read the paper. My mom cooked and prepared the picnic fare, packed the beach gear, dressed the kids, combed heads (8 girls). At the beach, my father helped layout the picnic blankets then played with us in the water, my mother laid the lunch and beach gear, oversaw lunch, cleaned up and repacked the beach gear. I remember thinking, mothers have no fun. I think that sealed the deal for me.

      While many people talk about over-population, money, relationship nurturing, environment as their impetus to be childfree none of those things mattered for me then or now. I just knew I didn’t want the unending unfairness of motherhood. I was lucky enough to find a doctor to tie my tubes at age 23. After a divorce at age 27, I avoided dating men who had or wanted kids. I have spent the last 10+ years with a gentleman ten years my junior. I think he had a hard time admitting to his very Catholic family that he did not want kids. After age 30, he dated as you did “women who were incapable of having children (either by age or surgery)”.

  4. I’m a 24 year old male from the Netherlands and i DONT want to have kids. My first reason has nothing to do with money but rather with my personality. Im a loner and i need a lot of time for myself. I get frustrated when im around crouds for too long or when my agenda is mederatly full. My seconds reason is idealistic: I think there are way to much humans on this planet and dont need to bring another life in this world. Overpopulation is a big problem and i think its selfish bringing another person into a potential life of misery and questions about our existence (life is rather a russian roulette then a ‘gift’, originating from the selfish desires of the parents to reproduce). My last reason would be money, although this is not a deciding factor. Im planning on having a vasectomy at age 25 (next year). I hate how people question this decision as rash and unthinking, or a phase that will pass… This doesnt do me justice, as a 24 y/o person who is about to become mother made a ‘perfectly fine’ decision, but im crazy??

    Greatings to all!!

  5. While I can relate to the person who said “I never liked being a child” because of being “ignorant, powerless, and dependent upon others for all of one’s needs,” I had to laugh at that person saying “To inflict such a state on another person, even if only temporarily, strikes me as immoral.” And the alternative is?? I mean, is it possible for people to reach adulthood while being able to skip the yucky being-a-child stuff? Don’t think so. The alternative is nonexistence. So, this person is saying “I’d rather that a person not exist at all than subject that person to having to be a child.” Um, okay…*scratching head*

    Okay, I don’t have anything against people choosing to be childless (I am myself). I just gotta question the “logic” there. I never thought of myself as having made some humane choice to deny a person existence in the first place rather than subjecting that poor soul to the miseries of childhood!

    • Thumbs up. I lol’d. I’m childless by choice because I’d rather not subject myself to the miseries of parenthood. I constantly think how my parents’ lives would be if they didn’t have my brother and I. I mean, I’m glad they did, but I can imagine they’d be doing other things and doing what they want to do. My mom would probably have a fulfilling career instead of staying home all the time doing practically nothing (well, she does domestic duties, but my brother and I are all grown up, so we don’t depend on that so much). Dad would be able to afford to send her to school.

  6. I agree with the statement in the article that people decide to have kids for not for emotional reasons then find objective reasons to wrap it in. I had a dysfunctional childhood I’ve spent many years unraveling. I just don’t want to go there. I have a CBC friend who was born into a large family and had to take on the duties of an assistant mother when she was very young. She decided that she knew what being a mother was really like and decided that “once” was enough.

  7. I have a child, so I’m automatically disqualified. My sweetheart has no children. His reasoning is that diabetes, heart disease, depression and muscular dystrophy run rampant in his family.

  8. I can very much relate to the winner of the Most Original Reason Not to Have Kids Award. I sometimes felt the same way during my childhood and that became yet another reason why I decided to never have kids – why put someone else through some of the crap I had to deal with at their age?

    Most of all, though, I relate to that reason Laura Carroll discovered. My parents were very young when they had myself and my two younger siblings, and a lot of the time it seemed to me that they were cranky, frustrated and quick to anger (I have that last trait myself). As well, although we never went without, there were some times of financial pressure and strain. Therefore, my childhood self got the major impression that being a young parent and having a family didn’t seem all that fulfilling or even enjoyable.

    This attitude was reinforced when I lived through my twenties myself – it was a very frustrating and stressful decade indeed. Surviving my twenties made me appreciate more of what my parents went through at that age – and it also made me even gladder that I didn’t have kids.

  9. The first reason you mention is similar to my original reason. I HATED being a teenager, and back then started thinking that I wouldn’t want to put anybody else through that. Now I have lots of other reasons on top of that (some selfish and others not).

  10. Lorna (not QUITE Laura) :-D says:

    I understand what Mordicai is saying, and when people ask me why I don’t want kids I am inclined to say “Why DO you want kids?”. Thing is, people don’t have to give a reason for wanting kids because it is entirely natural (biologically speaking) for our genetic code to want to continue on after we are dead and that is why we have children. Now for the crunch, it is also perfectly natural for people to be born without their biology giving them that urge to recreate a bit of themselves, it’s just less common. We’re not allowed to say that homosexuality is unnatural because clearly some people are born that way and if we’re born that way and we are nature then it is natural, just less common than heterosexuality! So really what we should be saying is that there is no need to ask EITHER question.

    I guess the best answer to why you don’t want kids is just that you were born that way. Unless of course you were born wanting kids but reasoned yourself out of it (which I presume is probably pretty hard to do if your biological makeup is telling you that you want them).

    • Nature, really doesn’t care if you WANT kids or not. It is simply concerned that a MATING has the POTENTIAL to bear offspring. Sex is the vehicle nature uses to induce us to mate. Children are simply a consequence of mating. Whether or not you want kids is immaterial. Nature does not care if you love the person you have sex or kids with. For example you can get or impregnate someone through love, lust or rape. These actions occur independently of whether or not one wants children, however, children can occur as a result of any motivator.

      While I do believe most gay people are indeed born gay, I also believe homosexuality is a birth defect, much like being born deaf or blind. Yes it happens, but it’s not within nature’s biological plan, which is always focused on the potential to bear offspring. A man and a man or a woman and a woman, can be madly in love and want children, but, by nature’s parameters, there is no potential for their mating to bear offspring. Love or the desire to have kids, or not, are simply not a requirement or variable of nature’s equation. Having male/female sex is.

      CHOOSING not to have children is a matter of social opportunity. If this were say, 1776, we may not want children, but reliable birth control was not readily available. Consequently, whether one wanted kids or not, the vast majority had them. Even now in 2011, in some countries, birth control and abortion are simply not an option. So even if one does not want children, if they have sex, barring infertility issues, they will have eventually them. We just happen to be fortunate enough to live in a time and place where we can exercise the option.

      Biologically speaking, it does not matter if one has or lacks “the urge to recreate a bit of themselves” to have children. They simply have to have sex. Children are nature’s by product

    • Lorna –

      I want to ask “why?” back, too – but because I genuinely want to know! I don’t care if people ask me “why” as long as they aren’t trying to analyze or judge me. I think I actually have a solid theory regarding why child-free people HATE being asked, more than almost any other related question, “Why don’t you want kids?” (The link, if you’re interested:

  11. To find academic studies, you can find lots using the now can’t-live-without–
    I am working on my next book, and am including particularly childfree related research conducted in the last decade. It is a great place to start and if you want to comb studies in detail, often can order them or go to library to look at the studies for free……~L

    • If you’re serious about looking for academic research and abstracrts on childfree or childless check out the National Institutes of Heatlh wedsite pubmed dot com search childfrree or childless.

  12. If you’re looking for a sociologist, I know of a graduate thesis done by Vinnie Ciaccio. He was (is?) one of the spokespersons for No Kidding social club for childfree people! You can find information about his thesis here:

    Bonus: It’s a thesis written by a childfree *male*, not another female named Laura. 😉

  13. Hi Ted, First thanks for the piece! Just a few words of clarification re: the research for Families of Two—I started out by looking for a book on long time happily married couples without children by choice, did not find it, so decided to find those couples myself. It did not take me long to realize there was much to say, and it eventually led to the book of interviews with childfree couples. I set out to obtain qualitative interview data from men and women on childfree marriage, but in the process also observed a variety of trends in responses, demographics, as a result of talking in depth with many couples. Since the publication of Families of Two I have talked with hundreds more childfree, and find the trends remain quite similar. The more childfree speak out on forums like this, the more we can learn on real trends on a number of fronts.

    My curiosity these days is with what seems to be more younger men and women knowing for sure they never want to have children. Maybe a query on this column and see what you find out–?
    To study this more formally, I have started a longitudinal study with 20-something women, and will track them, their childfree and their lives for the next 10 years. I am still seeking male participants, so 20 something childfree guys out there, if you are interested being in this study, please contact me a laura at lauracarroll dot com~

    • Chara Smythe says:

      Just wanted to mention that even tho’ I’m NOT a Twenty-something that you wish to poll for their Child-free views, I also decided at a young age(17)to remain CHILD-FREE for LIFE! I’m now 54 and still have NO REGRETS! I think it’s quite significant to have made that decision back then when there was even MORE pressure than today to have kids. If you(or anyone doing a Child-free Study)would like to include me in study on this subject, please contact me. Thank you.:)

  14. I think all this hullabaloo is coming from the wrong direction. What is with us non-childfree people acting mystified? “What deep secret leads to a man not wanting to have kids!?!” presupposes a lot of baggage on our parts. What makes people like me WANT to have kids? That question is just as valid, but not often considered, or at least not with the hand wringing that childless couples get. Sure, the answer is in part “hormones, biological imperative, whatever,” but we’ve got all kinds of biological imperatives– have sex with lots of people! Fight your rivals!– & those aren’t viewed as unilaterally acceptable.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think anybody should be obligated one way or the other.


  1. […] One great sign in my book, is they have a childfree guys column, written by Ted Cox.  He interviewed me for his article, “Childless by Choice: My Parents Made Me Do It.” […]

  2. […] learned of this great book after being interviewed by Ted Cox for an article on childfree guys . This book has ignited a topic that has not been talked about enough in the nonfiction […]

  3. […] worthy of note is the GoodMenProject. Good […]

  4. […] …”Childless by Choice: My Parents Made Me Do It.”  I talk about what I learned from childfree guys as a result of interviewing couples for Families of Two.  While I primarily was interviewing childfree couples about their married lives, I learned lots about their backgrounds, and reasons for choosing not to have children. Many guys talked about their childhoods, and how in one way or another they saw their fathers struggle to provide for their families, and how they decided they did not want this in their adult lives.   […]

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