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The Childless Generation: The Consequences of Opting out of Having Children

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Having children has become an increasingly controversial issue for Gen Z and millennials as more and more young adults decide not to. Though it’s crucial we respect individuals’ choices when it comes to having children, it’s also important that we think of the possible consequences of a child-free generation.

According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), the U.S. birth rate has been declining. In 2020, the total fertility rate (TFR), which measures the “average number of children a woman would have in her lifetime based on the child­bearing rates of women in a population in a given year,” dropped to the lowest level ever recorded. Increases in women in the workforce and delays in marriages and childbearing are just some of the contributing factors to the overall decline in birth rates.

Additionally, cost is becoming a significant contributor. Nearly three in five millennials listed financial expenses as a reason for not wanting kids, according to a survey done by Morning Consult. Compared to other generations, millennials and Gen Z were more likely to use finances as a major reason for their choice to not bear children.

Other reasons these generations have for going childless include: worries about climate change or the current economy, simply lacking an interest in having kids and prioritizing other matters such as careers. An increase in women joining the workforce and prioritizing their careers differs greatly from past generations as Gen Z and millennials challenge the notion that women are anchored to childbirth and domesticity.

While it’s admirable that newer generations are increasingly making choices that matter to them rather than following strict societal standards that have been followed for centuries, it’s also necessary to acknowledge the effects a childless generation could entail.

For example, in Japan, a lack of children is already impacting cities and economies. With a national birth rate that fell by an estimated 5.9% in 2019, questions on how the economy, society and overall culture of a nation have been brought into conversation. 

For one, the economy could be greatly impacted due to the increase in the national life expectancy as an elderly population is prioritized over a younger one. Fewer taxes may be in circulation due to a lack of young people working and on the contrary, more healthcare and benefits may be needed to aid the older generation.

In terms of society itself, there’s no telling what a childless generation could produce. One theory is that with no children or young people growing up in society, no new ideas or inventions could occur. Another theory focuses on the value of children’s innocence and curiosity, something that is often lost in the aging process. While it sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel, the realities could come to fruition if more people continue to choose a childless life. 

Lastly, the culture of a nation could be impacted if the number of children continues to dwindle. Children influence many aspects of life with their unique perspectives that we often lose as adults and trusting, optimistic outlooks on life. They have a significant role in the future of society and it’s truly hard to imagine how a society could function without children.

Whether or not you’ve thought about having children, it’s ultimately your decision. But, don’t act rashly: think deliberately about whether having children or not aligns with your values. It is extraordinary how newer generations are breaking down barriers of the past, but we should also carefully recognize how our choices can impact the future.

Camelia Heins is an Opinion Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at cheins@uci.edu