Is a child-free lifestyle the new vegan?

09 : 07 : 2018 Parenting : Children : Pregnancy
Barley + Oats' by Ashly Yashchin Barley + Oats' by Ashly Yashchin

One less child per family saves an average 58.6 tonnes of carbon every year. Going car-free, with its average saving of 2.4 tonnes, is no real comparison.

Rebecca Coleman, strategic foresight editor, The Future Laboratory

From environmental to financial impacts, vanity to self-doubt and medical to societal concerns, more and more people are asking ‘why have children?’

Choosing to live child-free isn’t a choice for everyone, but for those who make it a conscious decision, one of the major and growing motivations for declaring this status is on moral grounds. Mainly, this relates to climate change due to overpopulation, but some also think that it is cruel to bring more humans into a world of such uncertain future – the growing group of people sharing this belief call themselves Post-natalists.

Their reasoning sounds familiar. Environmental impact and unnecessary suffering are two key drivers of veganism, which – like child-free living – has recorded significant growth in recent years. In terms of going child-free, the statistics back up the logic on the environmental argument. A 2017 Swedish study found that having one less child per family saves an average 58.6 tonnes of carbon every year. Going car-free is the next most effective way of reducing carbon, but with its average saving of 2.4 tonnes, there’s no real comparison.

Those with children or aspiring to have them will argue that logic has no place in this emotional, instinctive and very human action. And yet the child-free movement is gaining momentum. Those projecting their child-free status include numerous increasingly vocal celebrities and influencers, such as actors Jennifer Aniston, Alison Brie and Jon Hamm, and racing driver Leilani Münter. While these ambassadors and a growing group of like-minded individuals share a life choice, they each have different reasons for making it.

Almost half of UK women who turned 30 in 2016 did not have any children, and one in five US women now go into menopause without having children.

The reduction in stigma and increased vocalisation by and for those choosing childfree lives will likely bring changes throughout society. For example, childfree workers are already beginning to question why they can’t have the same time off afforded to parents.

As Emily van Zandt, associate editor of Washington Business Journal, says: ‘Work-life balance should not equate to work-childcare balance. And with a growing number of women in the workforce choosing to delay or not have children… employers need to rethink the way they prioritise employees’ time. The same consideration given to dads skipping an evening networking event to make a soccer game should be given to the single 20something who wants to make it to dinner with his parents on time. And we shouldn’t feel guilty about it.’

Women’s growing independence is another factor. In the UK, a 2017 study found that only 9% of women born in 1946 were child-free, whereas for women born in 1970, this figure had risen to 17%. With data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealing that almost half of women who turned 30 in 2016 did not have any children, and one in five US women now go into menopause without having children, there seems to be a shift in the direction of fewer traditional family units.

And as more women in particular decide not to have children, there will be a knock-on effect in other future scenarios. For example, could we see a rise in single men wanting to have children without a partner? Will more economies become strained as populations age without younger generations to care for them? And how will living longer, healthier lives affect our individual identities and sense of belonging in society beyond the call of having a family? Certainly, as the child-free movement grows, it will raise all these questions – and more.

To read more on the changing structure of families, explore our Home and Family Far Futures series.