By Meera Jagannathan
Child-free U.S. adults are increasingly likely to say parenthood isn’t in the cards for them, a new report says.
Asked the question, “Thinking about the future, how likely is it that you will have children someday?,” 44% of adults younger than 50 without children answered either “not too likely” or “not at all likely,” according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October and released this month. That proportion is up from 37% in a similar 2018 survey.
The reason provided by the majority (56%) of adults without kids who don’t plan to have them: They simply don’t want kids.
Among the remaining respondents who said there was “some other reason,” open-ended responses included medical reasons (19%), economic or financial reasons (17%), no partner (15%), their or their partner’s age (10%), the state of the world (9%), climate change or the environment (5%), and their partner not wanting kids (2%).
The report analyzed responses from 3,866 U.S. adults under 50, both parents and non-parents, who took part in Pew’s American Trends Panel survey.
“Among parents and non-parents alike, men and women are equally likely to say they will probably not have kids (or more kids) in the future,” the report said. “Perhaps not surprisingly, adults in their 40s are far more likely than younger ones to say they are unlikely to have children or to have more children in the future.”
Birth rates in the U.S. have steadily declined since the 2008 recession, and the birth rate in 2020 hit another record low , falling 4% from the previous year. Economists told MarketWatch in July that pandemic-related economic uncertainty likely helped drive the latest decline, and said businesses would need to lean on immigrants for labor should the birthrate remain low.
Meanwhile, MarketWatch columnist Mark Hulbert writes that some early indicators suggest the country could actually be due for a baby boom.
Earlier surveys conducted during the first year of the pandemic found the public-health and economic crisis had prompted at least some people to reassess their fertility preferences.
One Morning Consult survey of 572 millennials without children in September 2020 found that 15% said they were less interested in having kids because of the pandemic and 17% said they would further delay having kids, while 7% said the pandemic had made them more interested in having kids. A top reason cited by millennial non-parents was the expense of raising children — perhaps unsurprising given that many millennials have now weathered two recessions in their adult lives.
And a Guttmacher Institute survey of more than 2,000 adult women under 50 conducted in the spring of 2020 found that more than four in 10 said the pandemic had made them change their plans about when to have kids or how many kids to have, with one-third overall saying they wanted to get pregnant later or have fewer children because of COVID-19.
“Pandemic-related worries about finances and job stability, as well as general unease about the future, may be shifting how women feel about having children,” that study said.
Being a parent is indeed expensive: Research shows even women with employer-based health insurance can pay thousands of bucks out of pocket for maternity care, for example. The pandemic has also shone a harsh spotlight on many families’ lack of access to affordable child care , alongside a long-simmering care-worker shortage that has only worsened.
A roughly $2 trillion climate and social-spending bill backed by President Joe Biden — which, among other provisions, would create universal preschool and provide four weeks of paid family and medical leave — passed the House on Friday largely along party lines. It is expected to undergo changes in the evenly divided Senate, particularly given objections that Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, has expressed to the paid-leave proposal.