By Robin Silver 

Just a generation or two ago, most adults’ lives followed a prescribed format, which for most women was heavily focused on being a wife and a mother.

Now, there are seemingly limitless options available to modern women—whether they choose a professional career, or to pursue any other deeply held desires of who they want to be in their lives. These life plans may be achievable in addition to having children, but many women are opting out of motherhood, for a variety of reasons.

Making Room For Other Choices

In the past, people had closer social ties, and they were more likely to have family and other community members close by who could help ease the strains of parenthood. In fact, there is an old African saying “It takes a village to raise a child” which demonstrates the ideal of having assistance. Now, with people living ever farther apart, the vast majority of childrearing is expected to be taken on by only two people, the parents. 

While feminism has had far-reaching effects on society, most childcare and household maintenance still mainly falls into the lap of women. The freedom to choose what to do with their money and their time is a significant factor for many women preferring the childfree lifestyle. Women without the responsibility of a child can go where they want, when they want, without the added financial and logistical burden of arranging childcare or choosing family-friendly events and venues. 

Men who do not become fathers are not judged as harshly as women who do not become mothers and are often admired for their bachelor lifestyle. The image of a woman struggling to balance career and family life is deeply embedded in the cultural consciousness, while men are praised for attending to even the simplest childcare tasks. 

If a woman wants to achieve recognition in her chosen field, being a mother, as well as a professional, can open her up to judgement, gossip, and being passed over for a promotion in favour of someone with less competing interests. Even indicating interest in becoming a mother can affect a woman’s career from the outset.

Children And Climate Change

The uncertain future of our planet due to climate change is another factor turning many women off reproducing. Personally, while I think I could have been an excellent mother, I feel a lot of trepidation about bringing a new, innocent life into a world with an uncertain future.

Aside from the potential disasters facing future generations, studies have shown, having children is one of the most destructive choices people can make for the environment. Researchers from Lund University in Sweden discovered that each child a family doesn’t have, saves an average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. That’s over 1,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions by the time that child would reach age 18! The study states that “A US family who chooses to have one fewer child would provide the same level of emissions reductions as 684 teenagers who choose to adopt comprehensive recycling for the rest of their lives.”

In comparison, the other top lifestyle changes suggested by the study have significantly less impact overall, such as living car-free (saving approximately 2.4 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually) and eating a plant-based diet (saving about 0.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually).

Economic Pursuits

As the stratification between rich and poor widens globally, many people are choosing to remain childless due to financial strain. Studies have found that between 2007 and 2012, spanning the peak of the last recession, birth rates in women in their 20s declined by 15%. Increasing cynicism and economic hardship have affected whether women choose to reproduce or not, though it is far from the only reason.

Tamara, an American woman in her 40s, chose economic freedom over motherhood, using her money to buy art and support the arts instead of raising children. She says, “it feels incredibly fulfilling and meaningful to use my financial resources to support someone’s passion.”

The idea of finding meaning outside of motherhood is still foreign to many, but it does not make it any less legitimate. Perhaps, in some ways, it is more legitimate—to be supportive, you do not need someone who looks like you, shares your DNA or surname. Freedom from the financial stress of parenthood provides more room to help other members of your community and the causes you care about.  

Ultimately, my choice not to have children does not make me feel any less of a woman, nor does it mean I lack nurturing or feminine instincts. In fact, these very instincts have helped me come to the conclusion that choosing not to have children is the most compassionate thing that I could do. When faced with the possibility of either regretting having a child, or regretting not having a child, the best decision for my health and the health of the world is to choose the latter.