NEW YORK – At 24, El Johnson has decided she will not have children, although she and her friend have not ruled out adoption.
The graduate student, who works in legal service in Austin, Texas, has a list of reasons why she doesn’t want to have a child: the climate crisis and a genetic health condition among them.
“I don’t think bringing children into this world is responsible,” Johnson said. “There are already children who need a home. I don’t know what kind of world it will be in 20, 30, 40 years.”
She is even so sure that her hoses will be removed soon. It is a precautionary decision made by the case of Roe v. Wade and sealed by severe restrictions on abortion services in her state and across the country.
Other women interviewed also cited climate change and overwhelming student debt coupled with inflation as reasons for never becoming parents. Some younger men are also getting out, and more are looking for vasectomies.
Whatever the motivation, they play a role in the US’s dramatically low birth rates
According to a government report, the U.S. birth rate fell 4% in 2020, the largest one-year drop in nearly 50 years. The government recorded a 1% increase in US births last year, but the number of babies born was still lower than before the coronavirus pandemic: about 86,000 fewer than in 2019.
Walter and Kyah King live in the Las Vegas suburbs. Walter, 29, a sports data scientist, and Kyah, 28, a college careers advisor, have been together for nearly 10 years, the last four as a married couple. Slowly both of them realized that they didn’t want to have children.
“It was in our early 20s when the switch was flipped,” Kyah said. “We had moved to California and had just started our adult lives. I think we talked about having three kids at some point. But just with the economy and the state of the world and just thinking about the logistics of bringing kids into the world. That’s really when we started having our doubts.
Finances come first. Before taxes, the two make about $160,000 together, leaving about $120,000 in student loan debt for Kyah and about $5,000 for Walter. The couple said they would not be able to buy a home and support the costs of even having a child without making huge sacrifices that they are not willing to make.
But for Kyah, the decision goes well beyond money.
“I think we would be great parents but the thought of going to our healthcare system to give birth is really scary. Black women, black mothers, aren’t valued the way white mothers are,” said Kyah, who is black.
If Kyah’s spiral expires, Walter said he will consider a vasectomy, a procedure that has been on the rise in men under 30 during the pandemic.
Jordan Davidson interviewed more than 300 people for a December book called So When Are You Having Kids? The pandemic, she said, has prompted many to delay childbirth among those even thinking about children.
“Those timelines that people have created for themselves, I want to achieve X in three years, have changed. People weren’t exactly ready to move the goalposts and say, ‘OK, I’m going to forego those achievements and do this differently,'” she said. “People still want to travel. They still want to go to graduate school. They still want to meet certain financial benchmarks.”
Fear of climate change has cemented the idea of living without children for many, Davidson said.
“Now with increasing wildfires, droughts and heatwaves, it’s suddenly becoming real, ‘Okay, this is happening during my time, and what will that be like while my kids are alive?'” she said.
In New York City, 23-year-old Emily Shapiro, a copywriter for a pharmaceutical advertising agency, makes $60,000 a year, lives at home to save money, and never wanted children.
“They’re sticky. I could never imagine picking up a kid covered in ice cream. I’m a bit anti-germ. I don’t want to change a diaper. If I had one, I wouldn’t want them until they were about sixth grade. I also think physical Earth isn’t doing so well, so it would be unfair,” she said.
Among the people Jordan interviewed, concern for the environment was far more pronounced in the younger group. Affordability issues, she said, worry both Millennials and Gen Z members alike.
“There’s a lot of anxiety about having kids who would be worse off than they saw themselves growing up,” Davidson said.
Dannie Lynn Murphy, who helps Google find software engineers, said she was almost 17 when she was removed from her home by child protection services due to a pattern of child abuse. Her wife, she said, was similarly raised in a “not great” environment.
“Both of us would have said yes to kids at some point,” she said. “In my late teens and early adult years, I saw and understood the appeal and was drawn to the idea of raising someone differently than I was raised. But the practical realities of a kid kind of suck.”
Murphy makes about $103,000 a year, with bonuses and equity that can push that amount up to $300,000. Your wife makes about $60,000 as a lawyer. They don’t own their home in Seattle.
“I can’t see myself getting a mortgage, let alone a kid,” Murphy, 28, said. “I think the main reason is financial. I’d rather spend that money on travel than spend half a million dollars raising a kid. Second, there is now a fear of treating our children the way our parents treated us.”
Alyssa Persson, 31, grew up in a small town in South Dakota. Marriage and having children is ingrained in the culture, she said. It was only after divorcing her high school sweetheart that she took a step back and wondered what she really wanted out of life.
“Most women where I come from lose their identity in motherhood,” said Persson, who now lives in St. Louis and makes about $47,000 a year as a college librarian.
She owes about $80,000 in student loan debt. Persson is a former teacher who loves children, but she feels she’s now thinking more clearly than ever about the costs, implications, and sacrifices of parenthood.
“Having kids sounds like a trap to me, to be honest,” she said. “Financially, socially, emotionally, physically. And if there was ever the slightest doubt, the fact that I can’t comfortably support myself on my salary is enough to put me off the idea completely.”