Table of Contents
When she’s not working as an urban analyst, Taylor Schenker teaches an intro design course to grad students. She also has a side gig designing graphics. In her free time, she works out, listens to lectures at local colleges, volunteers at an environmental non-profit, fosters puppies, tries out new recipes, and hikes Kilimanjaro.
It’s a life she wouldn’t be able to live if she had to care for small children, the Charleston-based 25-year-old told Insider.
“I came to the conclusion that I likely don’t want children slowly and then kind of all at once,” she said. Having always played the “mom” role in her friend group, she assumed she’d become a real one someday. But over the years she became more passionate about her career, and watched mentors struggle to balance work and family.
“It doesn’t seem like fun for anyone,” she said, adding that the household chores women still bear the brunt of in modern-day society and the emotional labor of managing a family were just as off-putting. “I can’t imagine doing that and raising children while maintaining some sense of self.”
A growing number of Americans like Schenker have lost interest in becoming a parent. In a November Pew Research Center survey of 3,800-plus Americans, 44% of non-parents said it’s not too likely or not likely at all they’ll have kids someday — up by 7% percentage points from the 37% of that group who said the same in 2018.
Pew says there’s no sole driving force behind the uptick in Americans eschewing childbearing. Childcare costs hitting nearly $10,000 a year, childbearing-aged women growing up in a generation blighted by the economy, and a pandemic might all have something to do with it. Some Pew respondents alluded to these factors as the reason behind their decision. But 56% said they simply “just don’t want to have children.”
Eight women in their 20s, 30s, and 40s spoke to Insider about their decision to be child-free. For many, it was an easy decision that often came down to a gut feeling and the common refrain that they love their life the way it is, having found fulfillment in other pursuits like careers and travel. They want to maintain the freedom that enables them to follow their passions.
Schenker said that even with the best parenting, it’s a gamble how kids will turn out. She’d rather focus her quality of life on hard work, travel, and retiring early to pursue her passions. “I have fun enjoying my life,” she said.
For some women, a career is their baby
Pew’s study came after the much-maligned pandemic baby bust, in which the US birth rate fell by 4% from 2019 to 2020, the sharpest single-year decline in nearly 50 years and the lowest number of births since 1979. The falling birth rate has put the US in line with worldwide trends among high- and middle-income countries like Spain, Norway, and Greece as women postpone having kids until later ages.
It’s a sign of economic progress, signaling a rise in individualism and women’s autonomy. A new world of opportunities has made millennial women about four times as likely as women from the Silent generation to have a bachelor’s degree. The more educated a woman gets, the more likely she is to postpone having a child until her 30s — or to never have a child at all.
That’s what Jennifer Mathieu, 40, has known she’s wanted since age 11, when she told herself “I will not have children and will live the life that I want,” she told Insider.
The vice president for government relations at a professional association for pharmacists attributes this recognition to her unconventional upbringing, in which her father acted as the primary parent since her mother often prioritized her high-profile career over family.
“I subconsciously recognized my mother’s struggles to juggle a career and family and decided that I would not follow the same path,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine juggling work and children. I wouldn’t be able to care for my two dogs without my husband.”
She added: “I have zero regrets, love my life, and think at least three to four times a week about how thankful I am that I do not have children.”
Freelance writer Heather Watson, who is in her mid-40s, also has no regrets about choosing work over kids. She said kids were never a priority for her and her husband, making for a decision that was easy but not taken lightly.
“We both work hard at our careers and honestly didn’t feel like children fit into the life and goals we wanted,” she said. “It always felt like it would be unfair to kids to try to fit them into our lives.”
Call it intuition
Watson also said she never felt a strong draw to have kids, a gut instinct that several women cited.
“I don’t feel the pull that a lot of my friends talk about, and when visiting my friends with kids, I just can’t picture it for myself,” Sarah White, 34, said. “I feel like I’m a natural caretaker at heart and could be a great mother…but it just no longer appeals to me at all. I love my life the way it is, and I don’t feel like anything is missing.”
Brittany, 31, said she’s always lacked a maternal instinct. “I never felt ‘baby fever’ as my siblings and friends started having kids,” she said. “I absolutely love my nieces and nephews, but I enjoy returning them to their parents at the end of the day.”
She explained that she doesn’t want a child enough to try making parenthood work with her career- and travel-oriented lifestyle.
“I never feel like I’m missing out on anything by not having a child,” she said. “I have thought about maybe regretting the decision one day, but would rather regret it later than choose to have a child now without really wanting one and resenting them for it.”
She’s alluding to a sentiment that has been more recently expressed in recent years, as mothers share that, while they love their children, they regret having them. A Facebook page, “I Regret Having Children,” currently has 45,322 followers. The open conversation around a taboo feeling provides support and context for those questioning whether motherhood is something they want for themselves or something society wants for them.
A life rich in independence
Known for spending money on experiences and living through two recessions, a student debt crisis, and a pandemic before the age of 40, millennials have redefined what a meaningful life looks like. For some, that’s a life filled with exploring passions outside of academic or professional achievement — all things made harder with a child in tow.
As of 2012, mothers were spending an average of 104 minutes a day caring for children, nearly twice the time they did in 1965, per a 2017 analysis by The Economist. That’s before the pandemic increased child-care responsibilities for women working from home, a struggle that has made both non-parents and parents more aware of the time commitment in raising a kid.
It comes at the opportunity cost of reading the paper in bed until noon on Sunday or gallivanting around Europe, pleasures that some women find crucial to their independence and self-expression. As Tasmin Turner told Insider, being child-free means her time, money, and decisions are to the benefit of herself.
“I can take trips on a whim, I sleep in and treat every weekend like it’s self-care, I’ve been able to move across the country and back again based only on my wants and needs,” the 34-year-old project coordinator said, adding that she sees no downsides to her decision.
She said watching her friends jump off the bridge into motherhood has helped her realize she’d rather stay on the bridge. Seeing them struggle to retain their pre-baby identity while caring for a new life, she continued, is something she doesn’t want to experience herself.
Kristina, a 33-year-old lawyer, also doesn’t want to give up her pastimes. She said she always thought she wanted children growing up, but as soon as she hit her twenties, she stopped wanting them.
“I love doing what I want, when I want,” she said. “Now it’s kind of like, do I want to have to take into consideration the livelihood of a child if I want to go to Europe for an extended weekend?”
She added: “Everyone tells you that having children creates immeasurable joy, but I’m already happy.”
Child-free by choice women are commonly told they could change their minds, especially if they’re still in their early 20s like Schenker. She even acknowledges that she, or her partner, could decide to take a different path one day but doesn’t see that happening.
As she put it, “Kids are expensive and sticky, and I would rather be the fun aunt that does crafts with them and has a beautiful home that doesn’t have to be childproofed.”