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Why More People Are Not Having Children

The reasons why men are delaying or in some cases completely putting off fatherhood are complex, yet entirely normal
03 June, 2018 | DD Staff
  • Why More People Are Not Having Children
For decades, researchers have studied ‘voluntary childlessness’ with the results showing a wide range of factors for people choosing to remain childfree. One of the most common theories however, is a desire to retain one’s freedom and independence. Despite what some cultures would have you believe, it’s entirely normal not to want children, says Jessica Valenti, author of Why Have Kids? Because let’s face it, what’s the alternative? Unhappy parents and even unhappier children who are often abandoned and unloved, which isn’t good for any society. “It goes against everything we’ve been taught to think about women and how desperately they want children. The truth is, most women spend the majority of their lives trying not to get pregnant,” writes Valenti. The fertility rate in the US, for example, is at an all-time low.

While I’m very much in the camp of ‘each to their own’, it does become tedious when celebrities rattle on about how great their lives are sans children. American Comedian Chelsea Handler is a perfect example, she regularly uses her platform on Netflix and social media to lament about why she doesn’t want kids. I say its tedious, not because of the subject matter itself, but rather the fact that in 2018, people still feel the need to defend their life choices.

However, as a close friend who is of Indian heritage, single and in his mid-thirties recently pointed out to me, regardless of how many people say they are “cool with it” or “respect your decision,” most people feel that society still doesn’t fully accept their decision. Writing in the Huffington Post, Laura Carroll refers to this as “nimby acceptance”- nimby standing for “not in my backyard.” She writes: “Many parents, for example, say they are fine with people opting out of parenthood until it’s their sons or daughters who tell them they are not having children.” A point my friend concurs with. He told Daddy’s Digest, “Many parents, especially in the Indian culture where large families are common and at the centre of everything, view it as a personal failure if their children grow up and decide they don’t want kids of their own.

“They expect to become grandparents because that’s the norm. It’s easier to lie and make excuses about why you haven’t started a family, than tell the truth, which is that I have no interest in becoming a father.”

The other scenario Carroll points out is a kind of “temporary acceptance” that friends or relatives express. “Friends who are parents (or who want to be) accept their friend’s no-kid status but believe it’s short-lived. They believe their friends will ultimately change their minds, and like we’re all supposed to, one day will want to have children.” 

The reasons why men and women do not want children are varied, complex and often overlap. Similarly, the attitudes towards adults who choose not to have children vary from country to country. For example, in western Germany, people without children tend to feel only mild social stigma, according to Tomas Sobotka, author of Childlessness in Europe. Whereas in Pakistan it’s still very much considered a social taboo for married adults to choose not to have children.

However, studies show that rather than voluntary childlessness being a new trend of the past decade or so, it’s merely a correction of a long-held tradition  at least in rich European countries. Many countries that have lots of childless women today for example, such as Spain, Italy and Germany had even higher rates in the early 20th century, according to Tomas Sobotka of the Vienna Institute of Demography.
 
In Japan, where the population is shrinking  there were fewer than 1 million births in 2016. As the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people  childless rates have continued to rise due to economic pressures for both men and women where long working hours are considered the norm, and limited maternity and paternity benefits makes parenthood almost impossible. However, Japan’s childless rate which has steadily shot up from 11% for women born in 1953 to 27% for women born in 1970, is being squarely blamed on men and the lack of economic opportunity for them. “In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry or have children because they — and their potential partners — know they can’t afford to,” said Anne Allison, a professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University in the US and contributor to Japan: The Precarious Future.

However, Allison said that this isn’t exclusively a male issue and gender differences for not wanting to have children are consistent with global trends. “The birth rate is down, even the coupling rate is down. And people will say the number-one reason is economic insecurity.” However, as DD found out when we spoke to childless men in the UK, the reasons extend far beyond economic insecurity. From not wanting to pass on addiction issues to the fear of being “a complete failure”, men are increasingly delaying or in some cases completely ruling out fatherhood.

“Bad parenting is in my genes,” said Tom, a 25-year-old PHD student at Manchester Metropolitan University who prefers not to use his full name. “I’ve never told anyone this before but I secretly don’t want to be a father because I’m terrified I’ll be a crap one, like my dad was.” Tom who lives with his partner of two years in Manchester city centre, admits he’s not yet told his partner that he doesn’t want kids. “It’s not as if I grew up without a dad, my dad was around when I was growing up but he just wasn’t very good at being a dad and I know his dad, my grandfather, was the same!

“My mum was the only one who gave me and my brothers any kind of love or emotional support. To my dad’s credit, he worked hard and provided for us but that meant we didn’t see him much and he wasn’t there to help us with our homework or to just play with us. Then at the weekend he’d say it was his time to relax so we didn’t usually bother him.”

Meanwhile, Robert Mills, a bachelor from Harrogate in North Yorkshire who works as a civil engineer, cites financial reasons for not wanting kids when the subject crops up with relatives or friends. However in reality, he says, he simply doesn’t see himself as a father figure.

“I’m 44-years-old and at this stage of my life I’d like to think that I know my own mind. The truth is that I don’t want to be a role model for someone else. I don’t want to have someone dependent upon me for the rest of my life. I’ve worked hard to get where I am today, to have a nice flat and to be able to go on two or three holidays a year. I don’t want to change any of that and I know having kids would change everything.”

However, he admits his anti-children stance often has a negative effect on his dating life because he can only date woman who don’t have or want kids. "I feel bad because I don't want to be a father figure. It's just not for me."

While 30-year-old Londoner, Christopher Rodgers, whose parents are recovering alcoholics said he fears his children would inherit addiction problems that run deep in his family. “I grew up around alcoholics, my mum still struggles today with a drinking problem and my uncles all have issues with alcoholism. I’m conscious of this so I myself drink very little. However, the thought of passing this horrible disease on to my child is enough to put me off having kids.” However, Rodgers admits that if he met a suitable partner then he may change his mind.

Undoubtedly men and women end up childless for quite different reasons. “Women often have no children because they have prioritised education or work in their 20s and 30s. Men are more likely to remain childless because women do not view them as good boyfriend material—let alone good husband or father material. “They have a problem finding partners,” said Michaela Kreyenfeld, a demographer at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin. Whatever their reasons, now more than ever before, more and more adults are choosing not to have children.
 
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