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Childfree people are people who choose not to have children.

The term "childfree" may also describe domestic and urban environments in which children are not welcome. In this sense, the term is the opposite of child-friendly, which describes environments that are safe and welcoming for children.

In most societies and for most of human history choosing to be childfree was both difficult and undesirable. To accomplish the goal of remaining childfree, some individuals undergo medical sterilization. The availability of reliable contraception along with support provided in old age by systems other than traditional familial ones has made childlessness an option for people in developed countries, though they may be looked down upon in certain communities.


The term Childfree was coined in the English language late in the 20th century.[1]

St. Augustine wrote in the year 388 of the Manichaeans, who believed that it was immoral to create children, and thus (according to their belief system) trap souls in mortal bodies.[2] To try to prevent this they practiced periodic abstinence.[2]

Christian sects whose views could be seen as supporting a childfree position include the Shakers, a Protestant sect that opposed procreation, along with the Skoptsy and the Cathars. In 12th and 13th centuries, the Cathars were a community which might have understood the contemporary idea of childfree. They accommodated sexual relations but considered procreation undesirable on theological grounds, regarding all matter as intrinsically evil. Most childfree communities, such as monasteries or other religious communities, chose celibacy and organised single sex accommodation as means of achieving childfreeness but did not regard children as undesirable. Such religious communities were childfree in order to devote their time to the service or worship of God or even to the care of other people’s children. They also had concerns about legal requirements to bequeath the community's property to offspring.

Following the historical research of P. Aries (Centuries of Childhood London: Cape, 1962 ISBN 0-14-081101-X) sociologists argue that the child as a social role and childhood as a social category separate from adults began to develop in the eighteenth century among the nobility. … Before this period, children were more thoroughly integrated into the world of adults."[3]

The meaning of the term "childfree" extends to encompass the children of others (in addition to one’s own children) and this distinguishes it further from the more usual term "childless", which is traditionally used to express the idea of having no children, whether by choice or by circumstance.[4] The term 'child free' has been cited in Australian literature to refer to parents who are without children at the current time. This may be due to them living elsewhere on a permanent basis or a short-term solution such as childcare (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2011).

Commonly shared beliefs

Supporters of living childfree (e.g. Corinne Maier, French author of "No Kids: 40 Reasons For Not Having Children") cite various reasons[5] for their view:

  • competing familial or social obligations, such as role as primary caregiver for disabled parents, siblings, spouse
  • economic insufficiency
  • lack of access to support networks and resources
  • personal well-being
  • existing or possible health problems, including genetic disorders[6]
  • fear that sexual activity may decline.[7]
  • various fears (for example, of being trapped or disappointed) as well as fears for the child
  • damage to relationships or difficulties with them
  • fear and/or revulsion towards the physical condition of pregnancy, the childbirth experience,[8] and recovery (for example the erosion of physical desirability)
  • belief that one can make a greater contribution to humanity through one's work than through having children
  • perceived or actual incapacity to be a responsible and patient parent
  • view that the wish to reproduce oneself is a form of narcissism
  • the absence of a partner one deems fit to sexually reproduce with
  • belief that it is wrong to bring a child into the world if the child is unwanted
  • belief that it is wrong to intentionally have a child when there are so many children available for adoption
  • concern regarding environmental impacts such as overpopulation, pollution, and resource scarcity
  • antinatalism, the belief that it is inherently immoral to bring people into the world. That is, one may generally wish to spare a potential child from the suffering of life. Moreover, the parent can never get the consent of the unborn child, therefore a decision to procreate would be an imposition of life.
  • belief in a negative, declining condition of the world and culture and not subjecting a child to those negative conditions. This includes concerns that calamitous events (e.g., global warming effects, war, or famine) might be likely to occur within the lifetime of one's children and cause their suffering and/or death.
  • belief that people tend to have children for the wrong reasons (e.g. fear, social pressures from cultural norms)
  • adherence to the principles of a religious organization which rejects having children[9]
  • dislike of children
  • uncertainty over the stability of the parenting relationship
  • lack of interest
  • belief that one is too old to have children
  • career orientation

Statistics and research

According to economist David Foot of the University of Toronto, the level of a woman's education is the most important factor in determining whether she will reproduce: the higher her level of education, the less likely she is to bear children. (Or if she does, the fewer children she is likely to have.) Overall, researchers have observed childfree couples to be more educated, and it is perhaps because of this that they are more likely to be employed in professional and management occupations, more likely for both spouses to earn relatively high incomes, and to live in urban areas. They are also less likely to be religious, subscribe to traditional gender roles, or subscribe to conventional roles.[10]

Being a childfree American adult was considered unusual in the 1950s.[11][12] However, the proportion of childfree adults in the population has increased significantly since then. In 2003, a U.S. Census study found that a record 19% of U.S. women age 40–44 did not have children (compared with 10% in 1976). A 2004 U.S. Census study found that 18.4% of U.S. women age 35–44 were childfree. From 2007 to 2011 the fertility rate in the U.S. declined 9%, the Pew Research Center reporting in 2010 that the birth rate was the lowest in U.S. history and that childfreeness rose across all racial and ethnic groups to about 1 in 5 versus 1 in 10 in the 1970s.[13]

The National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of American women of childbearing age who define themselves as childfree (or voluntarily childless) rose sharply in the 1990s—from 2.4 percent in 1982 to 4.3 percent in 1990 to 6.6 percent in 1995.

Factors involved in voluntary childfreeness

In 2010, updated information on childfreeness, based on a 2008 US Census Population Survey, was analyzed by Pew Research.[14]


While younger women are more likely to be childfree, older women are more likely to state that they intend to remain childfree in the future.

Marriage and relationships

Being unmarried is one of the strongest predictors of childfreeness. It has also been suggested through research that married individuals who were concerned about the stability of their marriages were more likely to remain childfree.

Socioeconomic status/labor force participation

Most studies on this subject find that higher income predicted childfreeness. However, some women report that lack of financial resources was a reason why they decided to remain childfree. Childfree women in the developed world often express the view that women ultimately have to make a choice between motherhood and having a career. The 2004 Census Bureau data showed nearly half of women with annual incomes over $100,000 are childfree.


Among women aged 35–44, the chance of being childfree was far greater for never married women (82.5%) than for ever-married (12.9%). When the same group is analyzed by education level, increasing education correlates with increasing childfreeness: not-H.S. graduate (13.5%), H.S. graduate (14.3%), Some College no degree (24.7%), Associate Degree (11.4%), Bachelor's degree (18.2%) and Graduate or Professional degree (27.6%).[15][16]

No High school Diploma
High school Diploma
Some college
Bachelor or higher
Educational Differences in childfreeness among women 40-44 yrs old in the U.S, 2004

Social attitudes to remaining childfree

Most societies place a high value on parenthood in adult life, so that people who remain childfree intentionally are sometimes stereotyped as being "individualistic" people who avoid social responsibility and are less prepared to commit themselves to helping others.[17] However, certain groups believe that being childfree is beneficial. With the advent of environmentalism and concerns for stewardship, those choosing to not have children are also sometimes recognized as helping reduce our impact, such as members of the voluntary human extinction movement. Some childfree are sometimes applauded on moral grounds, such as members of philosophical or religious groups, like the Shakers.

There are three broad areas of criticism regarding childfreeness, based upon socio-political, feminist or religious reasons. There are also considerations relating to personal philosophy and social roles.


Childfreedom may no longer be considered the 'best' way to be feminist. Once a paragon of second-wave feminism, the nullipara (childless or childfree woman) is not typically described in third-wave feminism as being superior to, or more feminist than, women who choose to have children. Feminist author Daphne DeMarneffe links larger feminist issues to both the devaluation of motherhood in contemporary society, as well as the delegitimization of "maternal desire" and pleasure in motherhood.[18] In third-wave handbook Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future, authors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards explore the concept of third-wave feminists reclaiming "girlie" culture, along with reasons why women of Baby Boomer and Generation X ages may reject motherhood because, at a young and impressionable age, they witnessed their own mothers being devalued by society and family.[19] In many societies, it may be possible, then, to uphold feminist ideals and still be a mother.

On the other hand, in "The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order"[20] and in Utne Reader magazine, third-wave feminist writer Tiffany Lee Brown described the joys and freedoms of childfree living, freedoms such as travel previously associated with males in Western culture. In "Motherhood Lite," she celebrates being an aunt, co-parent, or family friend over the idea of being a mother.[21] Nonetheless, in 2010, Brown gave birth to a son.


Some of the childfree believe that overpopulation is a serious problem and some question the fairness of what they feel amount to subsidies for having children, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (US), free K–12 education paid for by all taxpayers, family medical leave, and other such programs.[22] Others, however, do not believe overpopulation to be a problem in itself; regarding such problems as overcrowding, global warming, and straining food supplies to be problems of public policy and/or technology.[23]

Some have argued that this sort of conscientiousness is self-eliminating (assuming it is heritable), so by avoiding reproduction for ethical reasons the childfree will only aid deterioration of concern for the environment and future generations.[24]

Government and taxes

Some childfree individuals regard governmental or employer-based incentives offered only to parents—such as a per-child income tax credit, preferential absence planning, employment legislation, or special facilities—as intrinsically discriminatory, arguing for their removal, reduction, or the formation of a corresponding system of matching incentives for other categories of social relationships. Childfree advocates argue that other forms of caregiving have historically not been considered equal—that "only babies count"—and that this is an outdated idea that is in need of revision. Caring for sick, disabled, or elderly dependents entails significant financial and emotional costs but is not currently subsidized in the same manner. This commitment has traditionally and increasingly fallen largely on women, contributing to the feminization of poverty in the U.S.[25]

The focus on personal acceptance is mirrored in much of the literature surrounding choosing not to reproduce. Many early books were grounded in feminist theory and largely sought to dispel the idea that womanhood and motherhood were necessarily the same thing, arguing, for example, that childfree people face not only social discrimination but political discrimination as well.[22]


Religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam place a high value on children and their central place in marriage. In numerous works, including an Apostolic letter written in 1988,[26] Pope John Paul II has set forth the Roman Catholic emphasis on the role of children in family life. However, the Catholic Church also stresses the value of chastity in the non-married state of life and so approves of nominally childfree ways of life for the single. Some religious interpretations hold that any couple who marries with the intention of not producing children is not married within the church.

There are, however, some debates within religious groups about whether a childfree lifestyle is acceptable. Another view, for example, is that the biblical text Gen. 1:28 "Be fruitful and multiply," is really not a command but a blessing formula and that while there are many factors to consider as far as people's motives for remaining childless, there are many valid reasons, including dedicating one's time to demanding but good causes, why Christians may choose to remain childless for a short time or a lifetime.[27] Matthew 19:12 describes Jesus as listing three types of eunuchs including one type who chooses it intentionally, noting that whoever is willing to become one, should. Furthermore, in two different places in the Bible, Luke as well as Matthew, Jesus himself warns against having children in the end times. Also, Jesus as well as Paul, to name a few of several men as well as women, are childfree.

Ethical reasons

Brian Tomasik cites ethical reasons for people to remain childfree. Also, they will have more time to focus on themselves, which will allow for greater creativity and the exploration of personal ambitions. In this way, they may benefit themselves and society more than if they had a child.[28]

The "selfish" issue

Some opponents of the childfree choice consider such a choice to be "selfish". The rationale of this position is the assertion that raising children is a very important activity and so not engaging in this activity must therefore mean living one's life in service to one's self. The value judgment behind this idea is that individuals should endeavor to make some kind of meaningful contribution to the world, but also that the best way to make such a contribution is to have children. For some people, one or both of these assumptions may be true, but others prefer to direct their time, energy, and talents elsewhere, in many cases toward improving the world that today's children occupy (and that future generations will inherit).[29]

Proponents of childfreedom posit that choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children. Choosing to have children may be the more selfish choice, especially when poor parenting risks creating many long term problems for both the children themselves and society at large.[30] As philosopher David Benatar[31] explains, at the heart of the decision to bring a child into the world often lies the parents' own desires (to enjoy child-rearing or perpetuate one's legacy/genes), rather than the potential person's interests. At very least, Benatar believes this illustrates why a childfree person may be just as altruistic as any parent.

There is also the question as to whether having children really is such a positive contribution to the world in an age when there are many concerns about overpopulation, pollution and depletion of non-renewable resources. Some critics counter that such analyses of having children may understate its potential benefits to society (e.g. a greater labor force, which may provide greater opportunity to solve social problems) and overstate the costs. That is, there is often a need for a non-zero birth rate.[32]

Some musicians have opted for a childfree lifestyle in order to devote their time to their careers, such as Doro Pesch and Zeev Nechama.

Organizations and political activism

Childfree individuals do not necessarily share a unified political or economic philosophy, and most prominent childfree organizations tend to be social in nature. Childfree social groups first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, most notable among them The National Organization for Non-Parents and No Kidding! in North America where numerous books have been written about childfree people and where a range of social positions related to childfree interests have developed along with political and social activism in support of these interests. The term "childfree" was used in a July 3, 1972 Time article on the creation of the National Organization for Non-Parents.[33] It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.[34]

The National Organization for Non-Parents (N.O.N.) was begun in Palo Alto, CA by Ellen Peck and Shirley Radl in 1972. N.O.N. was formed to advance the notion that men and women could choose not to have children—to be childfree. Changing its name to The National Alliance for Optional Parenthood, it continued into the early 1980s both as a support group for those making the decision to be childfree and an advocacy group fighting pronatalism (attitudes/advertising/etc. promoting or glorifying parenthood). According to its bylaws, the purpose of the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood was to educate the public on non-parenthood as a valid lifestyle option, support those who choose not to have children, promote awareness of the overpopulation problem, and assist other groups that advanced the goals of the organization. N.O.N.'s offices were located in Reisterstown, MD; then Baltimore, MD; and, ultimately, in Washington, D.C. N.O.N. designated August 1 as Non-Parents' Day.Just as people with children come from all shades of the political spectrum and temper their beliefs accordingly, so do the childfree. For example, while some childfree people think of government welfare to parents as "lifestyle subsidies," others accept the need to assist such individuals but think that their lifestyle should be equally compensated. Still others accept the need to help out such individuals and also do not ask for subsidies of their own.

There are suggestions of an emergence of political cohesion, for example an Australian Childfree Party (ACFP) proposed in Australia as a childfree political party, promoting the childfree lifestyle as opposed to the family lifestyle. Increasing politicization and media interest has led to the emergence of a second wave of childfree organizations that are openly political in their raisons d'être, with a number of attempts to mobilize political pressure groups in the U.S. The first organization to emerge was British, known as Kidding Aside. The childfree movement has not had significant political impact.

See also



  1. . The term does not appear, for example, in the 1971 edition of the Oxford English DictionaryOxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1971. p. 343. LCCN 76-188038.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Saint, Bishop of Hippo Augustine (1887). "Chapter 18.—Of the Symbol of the Breast, and of the Shameful Mysteries of the Manichæans". In Philip Schaff (ed.). A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Volume IV. Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Abercrombie, Nicholas, Stephen Hill and Bryan S. Turner,The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology (Fourth Edition) London, p. 46 ISBN 0-14-051380-9
  4. The obsolete term "childerless", meaning "without children" is given, for example in Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1971. p. 343. LCCN 76-188038.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Saunders, Doug (2007-09-29). "I really regret it. I really regret having children". The Globe and Mail. Toronto.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. The Daily Mail: Mail Online, The curse wiping out all my family: Killer disease hits last of widow's five children, Andrew Levy, quote: "Most of her children decided against having families of their own to avoid passing on the disease..."
  7. The investigation of voluntarily childless married couples and marital satisfaction.
  8. Hofberg; Brockington (2000). "Tokophobia: an unreasoning dread of childbirth". British Journal of Psychiatry. 176: 83–85. doi:10.1192/bjp.176.1.83.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Kent, S.A. "Scientology -- Is this a Religion?". Marburg Journal of Religion. 4 (1): 1999.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Park, Kristin (August 2005). "Choosing Childlessness: Weber's Typology of Action and Motives of the Voluntarily Childless". Sociological Inquiry. Blackwell Synergy. 75 (3): 372–402. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2005.00127.x. Retrieved 2006-12-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Cohen, Patricia (12 June 2010). "Long Road to Adulthood Is Growing Even Longer". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  18. DeMarneffe, Daphne (2005). "Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life". Back Bay Books/Little, Brown, and Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Baumgardner, Richards, Jennifer, Amy (2000). "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future". Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Stoller, Karp, Debbie, Marcelle (1999). "The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order". Penguin.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 Burkett, Elinor (c. 2000). "The baby boon: how family-friendly America cheats the childless". New York,: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-86303-0.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  27. Van Leeuwen, Raymond C. (September–October 2003). "Is It All Right for a Married Couple to Choose to Remain Childless?". Today's Christian Woman. Christianity Today International. pp. Vol. 25, No. 5, Page 24. Retrieved 12 December 2006.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Tomasik, Brian. "The Cost of Kids".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. English, Jane (December 1986). "Childlessness Transformed: Stories of Alternative Parenting". Earth Heart.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Leone, Catherine (December 1989). "Fairness, Freedom and Responsibility: The Dilemma of Fertility Choice in America". Washington State University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  33. "Behavior: Down with Kids". Time. 1972-07-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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Further reading

External links