When Allison announced at age 12 that she didn’t want kids, her mother told her not to worry, that she would change her mind. Annette stopped getting invitations to her friends’ kids’ birthday parties after they learned she doesn’t want children of her own; they later explained they hadn’t realized she didn’t like kids. Bruce’s family urged him to rethink his choice not to have kids, for surely he would live to regret it.
These stories, and many more just like them, come from my interviews with childfree women and men from across the U.S. and Canada. They reveal some of the most common myths about the childfree, the term preferred by people who have made the explicit and intentional choice not to have kids.
My research, along with that of other social and natural scientists, shows that what we might think to be true about people who don’t want kids often turns out not to be the case. I recently had the opportunity to discuss myths about the childfree, and the research addressing them, during an interview with Katie Couric on her talk show Katie. The show aired Monday.
‘You’ll change your mind.’
Allison certainly isn’t the only childfree person to have heard this retort. Yet most childfree don’t change their minds. While the drive to nurture kids once we’ve had them may be genetic, the desire to have them is learned. We are taught early and often that one of the most important things anyone can do when they grow up is become a parent. Socialization is a powerful force that shapes our aspirations, including the desire to have kids.
‘You’ll regret your decision.’
Research shows that the childfree don’t regret their choice. As 70-year-old Marcia Drut-Davis wrote in her memoir “Confessions of a Childfree Woman,” “My life is full, rich, and rewarding. … I have no regrets.”
‘You’ll die alone.’
Another concern the childfree hear from friends and family. As many childfree note, having kids does not guarantee having elder care. Even more, research shows that the aging childfree are not alone. A 2009 study of people 50 and older found that the support networks of nonparents were more diverse than those of parents and included stronger links with a broader range of relatives, friends and community members.
Studies show that the childfree are more involved in volunteer and other charity work than their parent counterparts, and many also work in “helping professions.” The childfree I’ve interviewed include teachers, social workers, counselors and other professionals involved in helping to rear the next generation.
‘You must hate kids.’
Just as parents as a group are an extraordinarily diverse bunch, so, too, are the childfree. While some childfree do prefer the company of adults, most don’t hate kids, and many enjoy children’s company. As Allison put it, “I have really enjoyed being around kids my whole life.” Tim, a childfree man I interviewed, said of his nephews: “I love hanging out with them. I love being with them.”
‘You’ll never experience true joy.’
This statement is often made as a way of contrasting parents’ experiences to those of the childfree. Truth be told, the jury is still out on the question of whether parents are happier than their childfree counterparts. Some studies show that marital satisfaction and happiness are highest among nonparents. Yet, in one recent study, parents reported higher levels of happiness than nonparents.
Over the last 40 years, we’ve seen rates of childlessness double. This makes sense when we realize that access to reliable birth control has expanded over the same period, as have women’s roles and opportunities in society. Today more than ever, parenthood is a choice, not an imperative.
Rather than keeping a comparative happiness scorecard, worrying about regret that may never come, or making accusations of selfishness, the childfree and parents alike would be better served by recognizing that they have each made choices in a time and place where they have the right and opportunity to do so. That seems like a reason for us all to celebrate.
Amy Blackstone is an associate professor at the University of Maine and chairwoman of the sociology department. She is a member of the Maine chapter of the national Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.