Childfree (sometimes spelled child-free) also known as "voluntary childlessness"[1] is a form of childlessness. The term was coined in the English language late in the 20th century[2] and is used to describe people who have made a personal decision not to have children. The term childfree also describes 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.[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 availability of reliable contraception along with support provided in old age by systems other than traditional familial ones has made childlessness an option for some people in developed countries. 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 or relinquish their children for adoption.



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.[5] To try to prevent this they practiced periodic abstinence.[5]

Christian sects whose views could be seen as supporting a childfree position include the Shakers, a Protestant sect that opposed procreation, along with the Skoptzies 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 childless communities, such as monasteries or other religious communities, chose celibacy and organised single sex accommodation as means of achieving childlessness but did not regard children as undesirable. Such religious communities were childless (but not necessarily 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.


Supporters of living childfree cite various reasons[6] for their view:

  • cost and lack of access to support networks and resources
  • personal well-being
  • existing or possible health problems, including genetic disorders[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
  • 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 prevent a child from the suffering in life.
  • belief in a negative, competitive, 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)
  • adhering to the principles of a religious organization which rejects having children.[9]

Statistics and research

Overall, researchers have observed childfree couples to be more educated, more likely to be employed in professional and management occupations, more likely for both spouses to earn relatively high incomes, to live in urban areas, to be less religious, to subscribe to less traditional gender roles, and to be less conventional.[10]Economist David Foot of the University of Toronto concluded that the female's education is the most important determinant of the likelihood of her reproducing. The higher the education, the less likely she is to bear children.

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). Being childless was considered bizarre in the 1950s.[11] [12] In 2004, a 2004 U.S. Census study found that 18.4% of U.S. women age 35–44 were Childless. Demographically, chance of being childless (35–44 yrs old) was greatest in the West (19.8%) vs. Northeast (17.5%), South (19.4%) and Midwest (12.7%). Additionally the chance of being childless, by marital status was far greater for never married women (35–44 yrs old), 82.5% vs. ever-married (12.9%). Chance of childlessness (age 35–44) by education level: Graduate or Professional degree (27.6%) vs not-H.S. graduate (13.5%), H.S. graduate (14.3%), Some College no degree (24.7%), Associate Degree (11.4%) and Bachelors degree (18.2%).[13] The number of women in the U.S. who are without children is unknown, but 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.


Controversy surrounding the childfree state segments into criticism based on socio-political, feminist, or religious reasons.


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.[14] 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.[15] 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"[16] and in UTNE 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.[17]

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 (childfree author Virginia Postrel calls it "the most important work most people will ever do"), 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).[18]

Proponents of childfreedom posit that choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children. In fact, 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.[19] As Philosopher David Benatar[20] explains, at the heart of the decision to bring a child into the world often lies the parents' own desires (to enjoy child-rearing), 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.[21]


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. For example, religious conservatives have stated that childfreedom is a rebellion against God's will. 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]

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, 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.[28] It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.[29]

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


Further reading


  1. ^ Chauncey, Laurie (2006) (Thesis). Voluntary Childlessness in the United States: Recent Trends by Cohort and Period. Louisiana State University. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  2. ^ The term does not appear, for example, in the 1971 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 1971. pp. 343. 
  3. ^ Following the historical research of P. Aries [Centuries of Childhood London: Cape, 1962 ISBN 014081101X ] 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.” 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. pp. 343. 
  5. ^ a b Saint, Bishop of Hippo Augustine; Philip Schaff (Editor) (1887). A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Volume IV. Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. pp. On the Morals of the Manichæans, Chapter 18. 
  6. ^ Saunders, Doug (2007-09-29). "I really regret it. I really regret having children". The Globe and Mail (Toronto). 
  7. ^ 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..."
  8. ^ Hofberg & Brockington, Tokophobia: an unreasoning dread of childbirth British Journal of Psychiatry 2000, 176: 83-85
  9. ^ Kent S.A., Scientology -- Is this a Religion? Marburg Journal of Religion, 4:1, 1999
  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. doi:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2005.00127.x. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  11. ^ Cohen, Patricia (12 June 2010). "Long Road to Adulthood Is Growing Even Longer". The New York Times. 
  12. ^ "Childless By Choice – childless couples an emerging demographic – Statistical Data Included". American Demographics. 2001-11-01. Retrieved 2006-12-12. 
  13. ^ "Children Ever Born per 1,000 Women, Percent Childless, and Women Who Had a Child in the Last Year by Race, Hispanic Origin, Nativity". 2004. 
  14. ^ DeMarneffe, Daphne (2005). "Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life". Back Bay Books/Little, Brown, and Company. 
  15. ^ Baumgardner, Richards, Jennifer, Amy (2000). "Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future". Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. 
  16. ^ Stoller, Karp, Debbie, Marcelle (1999). "The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order". Penguin. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ English, Jane (December 1986). "Childlessness Transformed: Stories of Alternative Parenting". Earth Heart. 
  19. ^ Leone, Catherine (December 1989). "Fairness, Freedom and Responsibility: The Dilemma of Fertility Choice in America". Washington State University. 
  20. ^ Benatar, David (2006-10-19). "Better Never to Have Been". Oxford University Press. 
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b Burkett, Eleanor (2002-04). "The Baby Boon". Simon & Schuster. 
  23. ^ "Overpopulation Myths". Daily Policy Digest, International Issues (National Center for Policy Analysis). 1995-10-05. Retrieved 12 December 2006. 
  24. ^ Hardin, Garrett (December 13, 1968). "The Tragedy of the Commons". Science. Retrieved 2008-01-25. 
  25. ^ Levine, Carol. "Panel Presentation: Long Term Care and Caregiving". 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 
  26. ^ Pope John Paul II (1988-08-15). Apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 12 December 2006. 
  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. 
  28. ^ "Behavior: Down with Kids". Time. 1972-07-03.,9171,877830,00.html. 
  29. ^ Cain, Madelyn (2001). "The Childless Revolution". Purseus Publishing.  page 20.

External links

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