When I say I don’t want children, I get a very specific reaction. They stand confused, shocked, as if 9 months of pregnancy, hormonal fluctuations, bodily changes, physical pain, birth, parental unknowns, and a kid who will be cute but will also most definitely suck the life out of my bank account (and my boobs) should appeal to me.
This initial shock is usually followed by some form of consolation: “Don’t worry! You’ll want kids! You just have to wait for the right man!” or, “You’ll want kids when you’re older.” But why is the lack of desire to procreate met with such confusion and consternation in the first place?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, a family “consists of parents and children living together in a household.” This definition, evidently narrow, excludes grandparents acting as caretakers, aunts and uncles who live in the home, a single parent with children, and couples with no children. When a definition of such an abstract idea is so restricted, there isn’t room for other perspectives or definitions. Instead of immediately accepting the cultural norm of ‘women have children, children make a family,’ it is important to take time to understand why a woman makes this choice.
In 2014, the US Census Bureau found 49.6% of women aged 25-29 do not have children, while 28.9% of women over age 30 do not have children. This is the highest percentage of women without children since 1976. With an increasing number of women choosing not to have children, it is important to understand why this shift emerged, and why there is still such
a “stigma” behind not wanting children. The answer: in many situations, opting to not have children is a more rational choice.
For many women, the cost of raising a child is daunting. The Department of Agriculture found that raising children to the
age of 18 on average costs $233,610 covering food, housing, transportation, and clothing.
Some women “feel as if it isn’t for them.” In a New York Times interview, one woman said, “Just because society tells us that we should… get married and have children, doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing for everyone to do.”
For some women, the appeal of higher education or a prestigious career is more appealing, and many believe this cannot coexist with parenthood. There is also the issue of mental illness. Women who experience depression and anxiety, or have a genetic predisposition to bipolar, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues, fear passing those struggles to their children. Some women even cite climate change and the impact of increased population on the earth as a reason to forego having children. For other women, they are forced into that option, as fertility rates markedly declined from 2014 to 2017.
For many women who cannot have children, the all-too-common response of shock when they say they don’t want children serves as a painful reminder of their situation. Another aspect of the stigma: we often do not know the reasons for this choice. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, but then again, does it have to be? Why do women have to justify their choice to not have children when their choice to have children is rarely questioned? Children are beautiful, but that doesn’t mean that they are for everyone — and that is OK.