Nearly one in four American adults may be identified as “child-free” — voluntarily not parents. This finding was much higher than researchers at the University of Michigan anticipated when they undertook a new study that sought to distinguish among non-parents — people who wanted or planned for children but didn’t or could not have them — and adults who did not plan to have children, the child-free.
Far from the joyless lives we might imagine them to have, their findings revealed that child-free adults scored just as high as parents on measures of life satisfaction and had similar personality traits as parents. While most people believe that children bring joy and meaning to life, research has found that the stresses and responsibilities of child rearing can actually reduce quality of life in some parents.
A sample of just under 1000 adults who had completed the Michigan State of the State survey conducted at the University of Michigan was used in the study. With a three-question survey, researchers were able to identify who among their respondents was child-free by choice versus those who were planning to become parents or those who could not have children.
Previous demographic studies had lumped all childless persons into the same group but failed to distinguish whether they were childless on purpose, were planning to have children or were unable to have children.
Researchers also uncovered some stigma against the child-free. Parents were less likely to feel warmly about child-free adults than the child-free felt about each other as a group. Child-free people were also found to be more politically liberal in general than parents. Other qualities also set the child-free apart: They are less likely to be married, are less religious, tend to be more highly educated and are more likely to be only children themselves. They are also more likely to live in urban areas than those who are parents or childless.
The child-free are an understudied group, and the research suggests there is much to learn about the particular social, psychological, and even health needs of this demographic. This study was also limited to the state of Michigan, and would have to be repeated with a nationally representative sample to more accurately determine how many child-free people are living in the United States.
The study concluded that child-free individuals are very similar to parents and the childless — they love their families and communities, have similar levels of empathy, and are generally just like everyone else except that they don’t plan to have children. If you’re a child-free adult wondering if you’re the only one in your circle who doesn’t want kids, rest assured you’re not alone.
This study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.