171 self-selected, voluntarily childless/childfree individuals (single, partnered and married) living in the U.S. and Canada participated in this survey conducted by Laura S. Scott from November 2004-July 2006. 121 (71%) of the respondents were women and 50 (29%) of the respondents were men.
Participants were asked to rate eighteen statements reflecting frequently cited motivations for remaining childless on a Likert scale from 0-5, to the degree to which they identified with that statement or the degree to which it applied to them in the course of their decision making. A zero rating would indicate that the motive statement was not applicable or that the respondent did not identify at all with that statement. A higher number would indicate the relative degree to which the respondent identified with the statement, a rating of five indicating a very strong identification with the statement or an acknowledgment that it is, or was, a primary motivator in the decision to be childless/childfree.
The respondents rated the following 18 motivation statements and were invited to add their own:
_____ My lifestyle/career is incompatible with raising children.
_____ I value freedom and independence.
_____ I can better serve myself by not having children.
_____ I can better serve the world by not having children.
_____ I have no desire to have a child, no maternal/paternal instinct.
_____ The costs outweigh the benefits, financially and otherwise.
_____ I don't think I would make a good parent.
_____ I don't enjoy being around children.
_____ I am concerned about the physical risks of childbirth and recovery.
_____ I have seen or experienced first hand the effects of bad or unintentional parenting, and I don't want to risk the chance that I might perpetuate that situation.
_____ My partner does not want kids.
_____ I love our life, our relationship as it is, and having a child won't enhance it.
_____ I delayed having children and eventually decided I wanted to remain childless.
_____ I want to focus my time and energy on my own interests, needs or goals.
_____ I do not want to take on the responsibility of raising a child.
_____ I want to accomplish/experience things in life that would be difficult to do if I were a parent.
_____ I am concerned about the state of our world and I do not think it would be wise to bring a child into it.
_____ People I know have not realized the rewards they expected as a parent.
In the space below, please add and rate any other motivations that apply to you but are not listed above.
In addition, respondents were asked to respond to a series of open-ended questions, designed to gather data on the decision-making process.
What can we learn from this survey?
We can learn much about motives and the decision-making process. First, we can determine the most compelling motives to remain childless/childfree.
The top six motivations were determined by examining both means and the dispersion of frequencies analyses with the intent to identify the six most compelling motivation statements.
The Top Six Motives are:
1) I love our life, our relationship, as it is, and having a child won't enhance it.
2) I value freedom and independence.
3) I do not want to take on the responsibility of raising a child.
4) I have no desire to have a child, no maternal/paternal instinct.
5) I want to accomplish/experience things in life that would be difficult to do if I was a parent.
6) I want to focus my time and energy on my own interests, needs, or goals.
The first three motivations listed above were determined to be top motivators because they were rated a 4 or 5 on a scale of 0-5 by more than 70 percent of the respondents. The remaining three were rated a 4 or 5 by over 60 percent of the respondents indicating they were also strong motivators for the majority of the participants. All of the motivations above had an average rating of more than 3.5.
What are the Least Compelling Motives for this group?
The following motive statements had an average rating below 2.5 indicating that were compelling motives only for a minority of the group surveyed.
“I delayed having children and eventually decided I wanted to remain childless.” Only 21 percent of women and 22 percent of men gave this statement a rating of 4 or 5. That is not surprising as only 21 percent of the survey respondents described themselves as “postponers.” The rest of the survey respondents had made the decision to remain childless early in adulthood, or had “acquiesced” to a partner’s wish to remain childfree, or were “undecided.”
“I am concerned about the physical risks of childbirth and recovery.” Only 24 percent of the women rated this statement a 4 or 5. However it is interesting that 12 percent of the men surveyed rated this statement a 4 or a 5 indicating that some men are concerned about the risks of childbirth and recovery, too.
“People I know have not realized the rewards they expected as a parent.” Only 30 percent of men and 25 percent of women surveyed strongly identified with this statement. “I don't think I would make a good parent.” Interestingly, only 26 percent of the men and 30 percent of the women surveyed were strongly compelled to remain childfree because of perceived lack of parenting skills or aptitude.
With statistical assistance provided by Dr. Charles Houston of University Consultants, Roanoke, Virginia, we were also able to determine the most compelling motives by gender, by age group, and by decision-making categories which include: Early articulator, Postponer, Acquiescer, and Undecided.
A more complete summary of this analysis has been published in Laura S. Scott's book Two is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice, published by Seal Press.
Click here to request additional information on this survey.
How Should We Refer to the Voluntarily Childless?
Are we childless, childless by choice, child-free, childfree, or childfree by choice?
It depends... Those who prefer to identify themselves as "childfree" rightly point out that the word "childless" implies an absence, a void, or "less-ness." Childfree is a more positive term and it allows us to make the distinction between the childless by circumstance and the childless by choice.
The difference between the two is mostly self-definition. If you are without children by intention, then you might consider yourself to be "childfree" or "childfree by choice." If you are without a child because of circumstance rather than choice, you might more accurately describe yourself as childless.
I say "might" because I have had the pleasure of meeting couples who wanted children, struggled through infertility, and came to describe themselves as "childfree." I also know couples who are happily without children who prefer to describe themselves as "childless by choice"—myself included. The reason I have chosen to describe myself as such is because "child-free" can imply judgment; that what you are free from is bad for you, based on our common usage of the terms sugar-free or smoke-free. I remove the hyphen from child-free in an attempt to neutralize that association. It's a useful trick when writing about the childfree but useless in conversation.
I think we need to acknowledge that in a pronatalist society, child-free can sometimes be a loaded term. It can imply more than we intend, inviting people to assume motives—like dislike of children—which may not apply to some who are using the term as a way to communicate their well-being. Child-free also implies a type of lifestyle that may not be an accurate description of the lives of some of the childless by choice persons I have interviewed: teachers, childcare workers, and those who choose to welcome other people’s kids into their lives.
Childfree is probably the most widely adopted and politically-correct term in common usage at this time. However, I would recommend journalists ask the person they are interviewing what their preference is and describe them as such. Personally, I would like to see the adoption of the term childfree without the hyphen and without any assumptions about motives or the suggestion that childfree is a lifestyle, a movement, or an effort to advocate a childfree life.
… Laura S. Scott
© Copyright 2006
Click here to read a Christian Science Monitor article citing this survey and other important surveys.