Rise in Childfree Gen Xers: Challenging a Rationale

Check out some new data on the childfree: a study conducted by the Center for Work-Life Policy of 3000 Gen X men and women indicates that 43% of college educated Gen X women (ages 33-46) are child-free, “despite about three-quarters of them being in “long-term relationships and living with their partners.”

How do the researchers explain it? Get a load of this:

…they suggest that the reason many of those in their 30s and 40s are “childless” is because “this generation might have had too much choice.” That their “choices to focus on work has left many of them without a family of their own.”

The researchers seem to believe that women’s focus on their career has led to many of them being “childless.”

I have to challenge the idea that a career focus is the reason Gen X women are choosing not to include motherhood in their adult lives.

Sure, with more education women do realize they do have more choices in life, parenthood being one of them—it’s not a given but an option. However, it is not a matter of “too” many choices, but a realization that one has a choice when it comes to having kids.

Saying they have too many choices seems to reflect a mindset that if they had fewer choices more would choose to have kids, which is what they should  be doing.  So –what, we should be sending the message to young women they don’t have many choices in life so maybe they will have more kids? Talk about patriarchal thinking.

More people are not having kids by choice as awareness of the choice has grown, and how the number of people acting on that awareness has grown with each generation since the 70s. While getting pressure to have children remains, Gen X may be experiencing lesser amounts than generations before. As one 44 year old childfree woman is quoted in the article-she believes that “I’m part of the first generation of women where there actually wasn’t that much pressure to have children.”

As the numbers grow and pressure lessens, it is just easier to realize one’s true level of desire to become a parent. More people can look honestly at whether parenthood is something they truly want.  I ask these researchers — Could these numbers just mean that the women have decided it is not something they want? Why isn’t that enough?

Even if a woman doesn’t have kids because she puts her career first, what does this say about her desire to have children? It’s just not that high, or not there at all.

I hope when the whole study is released there will be more accurate thinking about why more Gen Xers are not having children, besides seeing the data through old paternalistic models.

These numbers also make me wonder how they dovetail with recent Pew research that indicates an uptick in educated women 40-44 starting to have children. Is the 43% more women who don’t have them now, but will, say, later in their late 40s, for example? Or does it reflect quite the rise in childfree lifestyle in this generation?

We’ll see. One thing for sure, this article is an example of how there is increased prevalence of the choice, but far from full fledged acceptance.

What do you make of this research?

Childfree Gen Xers out there –  Do you agree that your generation is the first in which there isn’t as much pressure to have children?

20 thoughts on “Rise in Childfree Gen Xers: Challenging a Rationale

  1. I am also a Milennial/Gen Y-er. Of all mine and my husband’s friends who have been married the past 5 years (we just celebrated our 5th anniversary) all but 4 couples were either expecting at their weddings or had a child before their first anniversary. And not a single “shotgun” wedding among them. It almost seems like a backlash against the childfree couples 15-20 years older than we are. We now remain 1 of the 2 who have not had children.

    Disclaimer: a good portion of our friends are military and the high number of children may be due to the high number of deployments in recent years and the likelihood of some people not coming back.

  2. I’m a Millennial/Gen-Yer but a fairly large percentage of my Gen-X friends do not have children. I think that this is going to become more common with succeeding generations (and I also think that those who do have kids will continue to have fewer of them later in life.)

    Having kids is truly an option now instead of something people feel they have to do. This is a very good thing! Taking care of another human being for 18+ years is far too important of a task to take on because you think you ought to want to do it.

    1. Hi Lydia, I hope you are right and that CF Millen/X/Y will just continue to be more common, a reflection that we are on our way to finally having it no longer be a “supposed to”! ~L

  3. I suppose I fall into the Gen Y as well (was never good at keeping up with these labels haha) and quite a few of people from my graduating high school class have kids, and many of them have more than one. There are plenty who don’t have any children, as well, though I can’t say for sure whether they’ve made the childfree choice or just haven’t had any kids YET. There’s still plenty of time for them.

    The notion of “too much choice” is ridiculous. Since when is choice a bad thing? Okay, maybe it is when I’m at a restaurant with a 15-page menu and I just can’t make up my mind, but that’s different ;-)Seriously, though, we’re in no danger of extinction, no need for anyone to get in a tizzy because people have discovered that parenthood is a choice and not an inevitable life path.

  4. I still believe there is a lot of pressure to have children, far too much.

    I think there has always been pressure but the setup of society was that people just did what was seen as the ‘norm’ and didn’t argue it, so those that didn’t want children probably didn’t even voice their disquiet, as such were they ‘pressured’? Well yes, but in the sense of being too scared to speak out because of how society was generally.

    Had they spoken out they would probably have suffered a similar level of attack to what we experience today. The only reason we experience pressure today is the continuation of society presenting having kids as the ‘norm’ but also because we do speak out. If we didn’t speak out very little would be said to us I guess.

    1. Lj, I tend to agree with you on the pressure thing, and found it interesting that the woman in the article felt differently–other gen x readers out there, please weigh in on this–do you get a lot of pressure to have kids? Observe it?

  5. I did see some research once showing that family sizes were proportionate to overall wealth (within a community, a city or a country even), this does appear to be backed up historic figures and makes sense I guess.

    1. Do you mean the more kids the wealthier? Today I have read a good deal about how more kids be a status symbol e.g., “look how many I can afford to have” and the like…now that’s a selfless reason to have kids, right ; )?

  6. Sure, I can try to explain my disclaimer.

    The college my husband and I attended is where ROTC was founded and commissions a large number of military officers each year. My husband recently resigned his commission in the Navy. Because of this, most of our friends are/were officers.

    It appears in the military that there is a big push to have children. I think the reasons are: one spouse may not come back and the other spouse wants a part of them, the non-military spouse may find it hard to have a fulfilling career when they have to be ready to move at the drop of a hat so they’re bored, military medical care is AWESOME so everyone wants to have children while they’re still covered. But the biggest part is that having children is about the only part of that equation (marriage, children, white picket fence) that you can keep with you. Your spouse is off across the globe frequently and once you finally get a house settled you have to move again.

    Its just a different world and childfree persons are very much a minority. It has been rough because in many people’s view as a 27 year old who has been married for five years I’m getting OLD and falling behind!

    Hope that helps.

    1. Wow what a tough culture to live in…I don’t envy having to deal with it. Thank goodness you know there are other placed to go for cf community 😉
      The point about having kids because one spouse might not come back and the other wants to a part of that other also strikes me as sad and, well, selfish!

  7. I’m Gen-X and childless by choice. I have a lot of female friends, also Gen-X, who are also CBC. One thing that I can say is that I think living in a large, urban, liberal city tends to attract (and nurture) CBC people. I’ve never had anyone make an issue of it. However, I sometimes visit my mother, who lives in a small, conservative town, and the mindset that “women get married and have children” is still very much alive and well. A prestigious career for a woman might be an accountant or restaurant manager — not an attorney, politician, nightclub owner or college professor. I suspect that smaller towns lack great career opportunities not just for women, but pretty much everyone who lives there. I’m a writer by profession, and I’ve committed myself to it. To make that happen, I have to live someplace urban and well-educated with a lot of forward thinkers at the helm.

  8. I am a proud, college and law school educated Gen X childfree woman. While I agree that there’s not as much pressure on my generation to have kids, it is still there. We’re the first generation that’s grown up with a real choice in this matter, but like all pioneers who’ve challenged traditional thinking, we are still seen as misfits within society. We are still women to either be scorned or pitied.

    I agree that the amount of choice available to us has affected our decision to remain childfree, but more in the way you suggested, Laura. We have seen how much of the world is available to us in a way that our mothers and grandmothers never could have imagined. And many of us, after seeing what’s out there, realize that having children is not the be all, end all experience. In fact, with all the other life options that are available (education, career, travel), many of us have decided that it’s not even desirable.

    I think that 43% will go down and the trend of women having children later in life will continue. Most women do/will still want children eventually. However, I don’t think the number will decrease significantly and at some point (likely when we’re all past childbearing age), the sheer numbers of Gen X women without kids, and hopefully happily so, will force others to start seeing the choice to remain childfree as more mainstream and legitimate.

    1. Renee, I tend to agree with your predictions, but who know when there are things likehow egg freezing technology is becomong perfected…more women in the gen x age group are freezing their eggs “for later” and even today means that medical technology will make it possible to have babies Even later in life–even potentially in peri and menopause! Let’s hope that does not become a scary fad…

  9. I’m a Gen-Xer with 4 siblings and a circle of friends that would mostly qualify as Xers. Of me and my 4 siblings, only 2 have children. However, among my friends, my husband and I are the only married couple that remains child free. We are Christian, and I’ve noticed within the church the child-free are few and far between. We don’t get verbal pressure to have children. But it’s also hard to know where to fit in among our friends when everything in the church is geared around families with children. Not that this would ever change our minds about having kids! We are solid in our choice, and at my age (39) people finally seem to “get” that I’m not changing my mind.

  10. I think the answer is far more simple. The definition of “having it all” is not what it was 30 or 40 years ago Today, “having it all” for many men and women does NOT include having children. For me, having it all meant retiring at age 45 and getting out of the rat race.

    A secondary issue is the decline in religiousness of Gen-Xers and younger people in general. The decline of religion and religious pressure makes it a lot easier to be childfree. I am an atheist so all those religious bingos simply bounce harmlessly off me.

    Even though I am technically a Boomer (born in 1963), I have always considered myself a Gen-Xer because when I first encountered the term “Baby Boomer” decades ago it referred to the “Post-war Baby Boom,” referring to all the babies born to those fathers (mainly) returning home after serving in World War II. My dad was slightly too young to have served in WWII so my birth does not fall into that paradigm.

    Did any of you happen to read any of the comments to the linked article? What I like to do is to click on “Worst Rated” to see all of the most horrible ones filled with bingos and other insults and click on the red “down” arrow. Then I click on the “Best rated” and see all the really good ones and clic on the green “up” arrow.

    1. Deegee, I wonder about the religiosity of Gen x’ers. On one hand I hear from many who are christians (likeTeri), yet also those who would not consider themselves religious although more uncommon they would say atheist. Saw some recent numbers and almost 80% of Americans say they are christians but that does not necessarily mean they are religious. Would be interesting to see religious data broken down by age…looking for it!

  11. I am a Gen X woman and among my friends and acquaintances in my Gen X age group, there are very very very few who are childfree. Most are parents, a few are childless. And my friends and acquaintances are not religious and live in urban areas so it’s not the small town pressures or the religious pressures that previous comments have mentioned. I have trouble believing the Gen X stats because they don’t ring true for me at all.

    1. I wonder if there were geographical location differences or other things that differentiate within the age group. Will be interesting to see more detail when the research is published later this year. ~L

  12. An increasing number of men also embrace Child Free By Choice. This really started to hit with Gen X. As I noted in some other threads on this topic, rational analysis leads some of us to conclude that the minuses outweigh the pluses. Back in the days when people got out of school, got married and became homeowners all prior to age 30, things were truly different. The calculus of children was more stacked in favor. Now, in many cases, the cold hard calculus would advise against. Having kids, especially if one is not some sort of superstar, especially if one is in an expensive coastal urban area, is nearly a fool’s errand. Financially foolish and fraught with numerous disturbing realities in the social realm. Sorry, I have no interest in play dates, wheely bags and grid lock at schools at 8:30AM.

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