More and More Americans Are Losing Interest in Having Kids

  • An increasing share of Americans say they don’t want kids, per a new Pew report.
  • The cost of raising a kid is one factor in non-parents deciding to opt out.
  • But, many non-parents said childrearing was simply not a priority.

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Being a parent is losing its appeal.

So finds a new study by the Pew Research Center that surveyed over 3,800 Americans ages 18 to 49. Among non-parents in this cohort, 44% said it’s not too likely or not likely at all they’ll have kids someday. That’s up by 7 percentage points from the 37% of childless adults who said the same in 2018.

There is no sole driving force behind the uptick in Americans eschewing childbearing, according to Pew. As seen in the chart below, more than half of this group just doesn’t want kids. The remaining 43% cited various factors, with medical reasons and financial reasons as the top two.

Among adults surveyed who are already parents, nearly three-quarters say they’re unlikely to have more kids, which Pew says is “virtually unchanged” since 2018. Similar to their childless counterparts, most said they just don’t want more kids. The rest largely cited age and medical reasons as their top babymaking deterrents, followed by financial reasons.

Anna Brown, research associate at Pew Research Center and author of the report, told Insider that medical reasons include infertility or an illness, while financial reasons entail things like childcare costs or job loss, which millions of Americans had experienced during the pandemic.

Money has long been a reason why many millennials, who have long been facing an affordability crisis, have put off having kids or not having them at all. Recessions — like the financial crisis and coronavirus downturn the generation has experienced back-to-back — typically have the strongest economic influence on birth and fertility rates. 

That’s not to mention the high price tag of having a child. National childcare costs average between $9,000 and $9,600 annually, per advocacy organization Child Care Aware. That’s unaffordable for 63% of full-time working parents in the US. 

But it’s not just the literal cost of raising a child that has increased. So, too, has the opportunity cost, and it explains a lot about the growing share of Americans who just don’t desire to have kids.

Women are seeking other paths in life

Pew’s study follows the baby bust news that has marked much of 2021. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed earlier this year that the US birth rate had fallen by 4% from 2019 to 2020, the sharpest single-year decline in nearly 50 years and the lowest number of births since 1979. 

Brown said it’s too soon to tell how Pew’s recent findings will impact the overall birth rate. But the number of American births has been declining for six years as millennial women have been waiting to have babies until a later age.

“We’ve also kind of seen this expectation of having children falling over the last few years, but we can’t really predict how it will change in the future,” Brown said.

“We already know that women are having children a lot later in life,” she added. “So we may be seeing more women toward the end of their childbearing years having kids.”

That’s normal if you look at worldwide trends. There’s been a broader shift among high-income countries and some middle-income countries for women to postpone having kids until later ages, Christine Percheski, associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, previously told Insider. The US, she said, was a little slower to see that increase. Seeing it now is a sign of economic progress.

“It’s about women having access to education and employment opportunities,” Percheski said. “It’s about the rise in individualism. It’s about the rise in women’s autonomy and a change in values.”

As Gina Tomaine wrote for Philly Mag, millennials like to be unencumbered and their economic experiences have made them question what makes a successful, meaningful life.

“Maybe a full, rich life is one that’s overflowing with creativity, travel, exploration — all stuff that kids make more difficult,” she pondered.