Ted Cox discusses the growing child-free movement in North America. Why are more and more guys choosing not to be dads?
I don’t want kids. The desire to remain child-free hit me suddenly sometime in college. Sort of like my addiction to Mountain Dew and Japanese game shows.
The reasons are many. First, as the oldest of my family’s seven kids, I’ve already changed way more than my fair share of diapers.
Second, instead of spending Saturday mornings watching a Ted Jr. strike out at Little League games, I’d much rather watch those Japanese contestants humiliate themselves on TV.
I’m not alone. Surveys show that the numbers of so-called “childless-by-choice” Americans are on the rise.
And even those crazy people who do want kids are making fewer of them. Earlier this year, the National Center for Health Statistics revealed that the U.S. birth rate is the lowest it’s been in a century: a mere 13.5 bloody, oozing births for every 1,000 people. The tanking economy is one of the biggest reasons—baby food is freaking expensive.
But last week, as I watched yet another poor sap on television slam chin-first into a padded wall, I wondered: Why don’t other dudes want kids? Was it for financial reasons? A hatred of children? An aversion to poopy diapers?
To get some answers, I contacted Laura S. Scott, a writer and producer who focuses on the child-free movement in North America. (Yes, now there’s a whole movement.) Scott is the author of Two Is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice. (Yes, now there’s a guide.)
From 2004 to 2006, she surveyed 171 single, partnered, and married adults, asking them to rank 18 “frequently cited motivations for remaining childless.” The motivations were statements like “I don’t think I would make a good parent” or “I don’t enjoy being around children.”
Scott says her survey group is one way her research differs from many earlier looks at the childless-by-choice crowd: the earlier studies usually ignored men.
“I did a bunch of research and realized there hadn’t been a lot of books written on this topic for a while,” Scott said in a phone interview. “And most that had been written were for and about women, I guess under the assumption that, you know, motherhood is instinctual and fatherhood is learned.”
So when Scott looked for respondents, she made sure she found some guys. Fifty men volunteered their answers; 121 women responded.
And as the survey progressed, she found out that men “really had a lot to say in the decision-making regarding remaining child-free.”
Scott says men and women feel the stigma against childlessness differently.
“Women tend to face more stigma for their choice to remain childless,” said Scott. “And they tend to be more acutely identified with their childless status than do men.”
“Young men particularly don’t really face a lot of stigma for not having children yet. Perhaps as they grow older they may get questioned by their peers,” she added.
But the pressure for men to have children can be greater in conservative religious communities or particularly pro-natal cultures—like Chinese or Indian cultures, for example—where producing an heir carries a lot of weight.
On the survey, respondents ranked how they they identified with each reason on a scale from 0 (the lowest) to 5 (the highest). Scott then ran the results through statistical analysis to identify what mattered most in a person’s decision to remain child-free.
So were there many differences between men and women in the reasons they cited?
“Really not much at all,” said Scott. “The top three motives were pretty much the same.”
For both men and women, the top-rated reason wasn’t so much about children as it was about marital satisfaction: “I love our life, our relationship, as it is, and having a child won’t enhance it.”
That makes sense. Relationships suddenly change when you have to wake up for 3 a.m. feedings or hire a sitter to get in some alone time.
The second-highest reason for men: “I do not want to take on the responsibility of raising a child.” 82 percent of men rated this a 4 or 5, compared to 70 percent of women.
For the third-highest motive, men and women again picked the same response: “I have no desire to have a child, no maternal or paternal instinct.” Fifty-four percent of men rated it a 4 or 5.
Fourth on the list: “I want to accomplish things in life that would be difficult if I were a parent.” Again, no surprise: most of the child-free people she’s spoken to are immersed in their work.
“They were engaged in careers that took them away from home,” said Scott. “For one reason or another, raising children would be problematic, given what they were doing at the time.”
One significant statistical difference showed up when survey-takers were grouped by age: 100 percent of 20- to 29-year-olds rated “I want to focus my time and energy on my own needs, interests or goals” high on their list, compared to only 42 percent of those 50 years and older.
“That was not unexpected,” Scott said. “The youngest group, which is the college students and the people just going into the workplace and the young adults were really focused on their own interests, needs or goals as a priority over raising a child.”
Scott had looked at similar studies conducted in the past. She found that motives cited in the ’70s and ’80s were fairly similar to the motives child-free adults cited in her own survey.
She believes that’s because the environmental and zero-population movements of the 1970s have are fairly strong today, too.
Sadly, “I’m too addicted to Japanese game shows to chase toddlers” didn’t score high on the list. I guess I’m weird.
—Photo Mykl Roventine/Flickr