Last summer, researchers at Michigan State University announced that about 1.7 million adults in Michigan, about one in five, have chosen not to have children and are thus living childless lives. This figure was remarkably large, surprising to many, and has since been confirmed by a subsequent study.
“We found that 20.9% of adults in Michigan do not want children, which is close to our previous estimate of 21.6%, and means that more than 1.6 million people in Michigan are childfree,” says Jennifer Watling Neal , MSU professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Michigan is demographically similar to the United States as a whole, so this could mean 50 million to 60 million Americans are childfree.”
The new study published in PLOS ONE attempted to replicate the original study by using the same methods but with a new sample of people. The researchers used data from a representative sample of 1,000 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, conducted by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. To avoid any risk of cherry-picking results, the researchers recorded the study by recording in advance exactly how the study would be conducted and what they expected to find.
“Many adults are childless, and there don’t seem to be differences by age, education, or income,” said Zachary Neal, an associate professor of psychology at MSU and a co-author of the study. “However, being childfree is slightly more common among adults who identify as male, white, or have always been single.”
Some express concern that adults without children will regret the decision not to have children, especially later in life. But Watling Neal explained: “We found no evidence that older children without children experience more regrets than older parents. In fact, older parents were a little more eager to change their lives.”
Because so many people are childless, the researchers said this group deserves more attention, especially as reproductive rights are being eroded.
“States’ restrictions on reproductive health care may force many people to have children despite not wanting them, which is very concerning,” Neal said.
The research team is now examining whether abortion restrictions affect adults’ choice to be childfree and is expanding their work beyond Michigan to other states and countries.
Reference: “Prevalence, Decision Age, and Interpersonal Warmth Judgments of Children Without Adults: Replication and Expansions” By Jennifer Watling Neal and Zachary P. Neal, April 5, 2023, PLOS ONE.