More on the Rise of Gen Xers Saying No to Kids

Back in September I posted on a newly released research publication on GenXers by The Center for Work Life Policy,  part of which reported that over 40% of women ages 41-45 did not have children, and by age 40, 36% of Gen X men also don’t have children. Researchers explained this trend as potentially a “creeping non-choice” which I challenged. A comment came in that… me thinking further about the reasons why more GenXers might choose to not have kids.  First, check out this guy’s comment:

“Like many of our cohort I was a latchkey kid, and did not experience the Leave It To Beaveresque “wonder years” of previous generations. Fresh out of school thrust into cubeland, struggling to find a niche underneath the yuppie, later, grey ceiling. The whole arrangement lead to intense cynicism and pessimism about my own future.

As luck (or whatever) would have it, I ended up reasonably OK career wise. However, the cynical bent led to me seeing many things that really turned me off about child rearing as it came to exist post 1980s – helicopter parenting, trophy children, the long arm of the state, etc, etc, etc. The whole thing became more and more of a turn off the older I got.

I lucked out, marrying another like minded soul. And there you have it.”

The research indicates that the reasons many GenXers don’t have kids has to do with “career ambition and economic challenges.” This comment made me wonder about additional factors that might be more touchy to talk about, like how they were parented.

Generally speaking, some childfree of all adult ages say that a reason they chose to not have kids had to do with how they were raised, and they did not want to repeat it. Overall, though it does not top the chart of reasons. I wonder if GenX would be more likely to list this as a reason than say, older generations?

What about the reason having to do with all that goes with parenting today, where –to almost the opposite of latchkey–I wonder–do more GenXers than generations before feel this way? How about generations who came after the X generation?

Would I love to see research on this….Meanwhile, what do you think?

28 thoughts on “More on the Rise of Gen Xers Saying No to Kids

  1. I suppose I kind of feel the opposite of how he feels. I think I’m technically “Gen Y” being under 30, but I think I might be one of the last generations of kids who were allowed any autonomy. My parents didn’t treat me like some precious China doll that needed to be attended to every waking moment. It wouldn’t even come close to the top of the list of reasons I don’t want to be a parent, but I have a feeling I wouldn’t be allowed to raise a kid the way I was raised. There were no socket covers or childproof locks on cabinets in my home. As a little kid (we are talking 6 or 7 years old), I used to disappear out of the house and go off playing with my friends for like 8 hours a day. I wasn’t confined to my yard with parental supervision (nor were my neighborhood friends). No one ever went looking for me, no amber alerts were ever called in. When it got dark, I’d come home. Also, I didn’t go to 30 birthday parties a year like my niece does (as though my mom had time for that). I wasn’t forced into a ton of after school activities “to keep me busy and out of trouble.” I could do my own laundry, cook food in the microwave, and shower and dress myself by the time I was 5. And guess what, I had a pretty happy childhood.

    It’s not that I don’t want to repeat how I was raised; I wouldn’t be allowed to repeat how I was raised. Seriously, I feel that if I tried to raise a kid the same way I was raised, I’d probably get arrested for neglect or abuse or something. So yeah, now that I think about it, the idea of having to raise a kid the way American society today expects you to raise one, it’s beyond unappealing.

    If I had a kid who was capable of getting dressed and making oatmeal in the morning before I woke up like I was, I still probably wouldn’t want one. But, at least I wouldn’t be as annoyed by the babied kids I see running around today. Cut the crust off your sandwich? You don’t like the crust, you peel it off yourself like I did!

  2. My decision not to have kids was heavily influenced by my (1980s/90s) upbringing, but ironically, for opposite reasons than you mention. My parents desperately tried to re-create the Beaver Cleaver era in their home, and it failed spectacularly, for many reasons, starting with the fact that it wasn’t the 50s anymore (and even the 50s wasn’t the utopia of boomer nostalgia–that world never existed outside of television), and ending with the fact that both of them were, in different ways, emotionally immature and therefore not ready to raise children. The day I finally realized that, even though I was still a child, my parents in fact did NOT know what was best for me any better than I did, was a painful, scary day, and I’m glad I will never disappoint or frighten any child of mine like that.

    But the real reason I responded to this post was to call everyone’s attention to an article posted on a couple of days ago called “The decline and fall of parental authority,” which might as well have been titled “Why to be childfree–you will never have to deal with this truckload of crap.” After reading the article (and listening to the daily litany of concerns, comments, and complaints from my parent co-workers), I became even more convinced that bringing children into this world right now is an act of insanity.

  3. My comment on the other thread seems to have sparked some discussion. 🙂

    To be clear, I was not helicopter parented (a technical impossibility for a latch key kid). At times I actually assisted with the parenting task vis a vis my younger brother.

    The turn off for me is identical to the two posts above – I would not be allowed to raise kids the way I want to, which would be somewhere in the sweet spot between how the Boomers were raised and how us Xers were raised. I witness how many Xers with kids have gone about it / are going about it and it really sort of turns my stomach. At a local elementary school near me there is grid lock every morning, can’t let junior out of sight even for a 4 block walk to school. People on our street with kids (by my reckoning, less than 10% of the households) arrange play dates. What planet are we on here!?!

  4. As a “free-range” kid of the 70s/80s, I am solidly GenX and grateful for the lack of helicopter parenting in my life.

    The number one reason I do not want kids? To put it bluntly, I didn’t like children when I was one myself.

    I found them insufferable, emotionally cruel, and immature. My childhood was hell–in part because of my parents but also because of other children. I wouldn’t force childhood on anyone.

    1. Val, I found in a recent On-the-Ground question here re asking those who knew early in life they would grow up to be childfree, how did they know, that a good deal of people say what you say — that they did not like other kids when they were kids…

  5. Hi Laura

    I started wondering the same thing recently… and wrote an article called ‘Did you childhood put you off motherhood?’

    I think it is perhaps more acceptable to voice such opinions now, even though they are still pretty taboo.

    Also, an interview published with me this weekend in the UK Guardian. It came out in the Family section and which kicked off a heck of debate online. As the term ‘childfree’ is less well known in the UK, I namechecked your website (in the comments) as the best place to start exploring the subject.

    If any US based childfree or childless readers would like to add their voice to the 200+ comments before they close, I’d be thrilled. The childfree culture is much more developed in the US, but it is beginning to take hold in the UK. I sit a little bit inbetween the two (childless/childfree), but as one of my aims is to build bridges, it’s probably just the place to be!

    As you know, I am childless rather than childfree, but support and admire the childfree. I have tentatively coined a new term for people like me who are childless by circumstance: the #nomos (the not-mothers). I hope it catches on, because childless by circumstance is a heck of a mouthful!

    Best wishes, as always.


  6. I am a Gen-Xer childfree woman, married to a man of the same age and same non-natal inclination. We were raised very differently. I had a very rough childhood, and like Val has said, I didn’t like children when I was one.

    I don’t particularly like being around children, especially small ones, and the way I would want to raise kids if I had them, like others mentioned, would be almost impossible.

    My husband did not have a perfect childhood, but his family was loving and supportive. He has worked extremely hard, though, because he has always valued his leisure time, and wants to retire early. He is a lover of quiet weekends, reading on the couch, and vacations.

    He was never remotely interested in being a father. He does not want to give up his quiet time and our romantic getaways. We love living just the two of us, and are admittedly both amazed and worried for our friends who are parents. Seeing what they go through is concerning…

  7. Hi Laura. Fascinating discussion. As a boomer, I was raised by parents who certainly weren’t like Beaver’s parents, but they did pass on the idea that children were a good thing to have. Two out of my three stepchildren, on the other hand,all Gen X, don’t have kids and don’t want them. Their parents were divorced and their dad didn’t particularly like being a parent and chose not to have any with me. His childhood was pretty messed up. I think people learn by example, and it starts very early.

    1. Hi Sue, I’m a boomer too-I don’t think my dad liked the parent role too much, but my mother did and she is/was a great mom. I think we can learn by example, e.g., divorce, but also what was instilled in us..I was very fortunate that my parents always sent the message you can grow up to create the life you want–no direct or pressured expectations about kids, giving them grandkids, etc. I never got any flack for having no kids either. I feel fortunate to have cool parents!

  8. I am a “Gen Y-er” but I can tell you that I was absolutely parented horribly and this has been a factor in (albeit a minor one, as far as I am CONSCIOUSLY aware) my own decision not to parent.

    More reasons to do with my temperament, though.


    Thought the above was an interesting commentary yet again on our childfree prime minister in Australia if anyone would like to read.

    My parents were both pretty good and although my mum would like some grandkids from me she hasnt pressured me much. We also had a pretty free upbringing as well, left to our own devices but i couldnt help feeling an distinct undercurrent that maybe they didnt think parenthood was that great…it was always there, My dad missed his single life a lot and i think mum wanted more time to herself. I wouldnt say they ever encouraged us to go down that traditional path in any way.

    1. Go Tory Sheperd! Am going to circulate this one….thanks for sharing it–To all, anytime you find something that visitors to the site would be interested in, please don’t hesitate!

  10. I’m in my late 20’s which means I must be a gen-Yer. I don’t know if this makes any sense but I look around and all my friends had play-dates growing up(whatever that means), never learned to cook or even wash dishes. I grew up in a family that immigrated from Europe and my parents always strongly believed that the kids should entertain themselves, play outside 8hrs a day, and learn to do for themselves. I was never grounded as this was an unknown concept to my parents (I was spanked (NOT ABUSED as some people think spanking is, I NEVER once had a bruise on me) and was given a good talking to when I did something wrong. When I tell my peers the idea of setting up play-dates is absurd and that kids can find their own friends I get this look of utter shock from people like I somehow believe in abandoning kids to fend for themselves. When I even mention that I was spanked as a child and I turned out just fine my peers look at me as some sadistic child-abuser. When I even mention that it is ok for people to choose to only have one child I am lectured on how unsocialized and horrible that child will grow up to be….apparently only having one child is child-abuse, go figure! My parents set boundaries, my mom disciplined, I played outside 8hrs a day, walked to school, did my own science projects, and made my own sandwiches when I was 8. All my friends cant wait to be moms and setup play-dates and ballet/violin/swimming/soccer lessons while driving their kids around from one activity to the next day after day (I’m CF and a high school teacher). I’m still not sure why but as a child raised by European immigrant parents I had A LOT more freedom than my peers but I was also disciplined more and understood consequences. Before anyone says my parents were neglectful please let me mention my mom is a teacher, my parents were always present in my life (they’re still married), and I have a strong bond with my family till this day. I don’t understand what has changed in the last several decades that now makes parents too afraid to discipline or let kids do for themselves(including finding their own friends). I truly believe that if I tried to raise a kid the way I was raised I’d probably have child services on me in no time!

  11. As a gleefully childfree Gen-Xer I find myself reading a lot of these boards, in part to feel connected to a community (at 37 and married no kids, I seem to get a lot more negative attitude about being CF than I expected) and in part to understand WHY I am just so turned off at the thought of parenthood. The WHY is becoming more clear with each passing day. This post and these comments are great, as the above mentioned reason doesn’t seem to get touched upon very much. I could have written Alex’s post, my situation was so similar.

    I had a pretty crappy childhood, not “Beaver Cleaveresque” in the least, and as a smart, thoughtful kid, I was very aware of how much my parents cared for us…and equally loathed being parents. I saw the frustration, the yanked pigtails, the gritted teeth and rolling eyes. We made them nuts, they made us nuts. We all ended up avoiding each other a lot.It was fairly gross. And secretly…extremely typical. This was the story for almost every family I knew, they all disliked each other a pretty fair amount, and didn’t like spending time together. Don’t get me wrong, there were happy families and good stuff too…but over a lifetime, this story is so common it boggles me.

    One really big reason that I am Childfree is that I can control who is in my life, I get to PICK my friends and the people I spend time with.

    This leads me to another point here that seems to never get mentioned…I also don’t really LIKE my parents. They love my brother and I, I am obligated to love them back… but they don’t really like us either. To explain, our personalities, while having family similarities, are not particularly compatible. So…all of that money, all of that work, all of that PARENTING, and what is the end result? Four people who wouldn’t talk to each other in the real world if we weren’t related. And who sporadically keep in touch because they feel they have to. And guess what? At least three of my friends with kids say “I love my kid, but I can’t wait to get away from them. I don’t really LIKE them.”

    This is something I would appreciate hearing more about too…how many people don’t have kids because they realize that giving birth to them doesn’t mean that you automatically enjoy being around them? My parents certainly didn’t enjoy being around us…and the feeling was fairly mutual from toddlerhood on. Love isn’t a forgone conclusion…there is a big fat chance that you could just give birth to a little stranger you can’t stand.

    1. AmyJane, Thanks for the candid comment–one of your reasons of being CF re controlling who is in your life is a reason that definitely is not talked about enough! Thanks for inspiring an upcoming post.
      The realities of “loving” blood relatives but not liking them is worthy of discussion. I am luck that I do like and love my parents. My family members (I have one brother) have different personalities, but not to the point where we don’t like spending time together. Now if I had to spend A lot of time with them, e.g., having parents live with me when they are older…Mmmm, I don’t know.
      Wonder how common the “love/not like” thing is re parents, whether you grow up to be parents or not….Readers-do you resonate with AmyJane?

  12. Not sure how my upbringing fits into it. I had a decent childhood, I think my parents did a pretty good job if I do say so myself, but I’ve also come to realize they didn’t find parenthood to be full of joys. My siblings and I were fairly well-behaved, all things considered, but my parents still never really celebrated the wonderfulness of having children. I get the impression they had children just because that’s what you did, not because they chose to. They did not seem to question the roles that their generation assigned to them. I had a good childhood but didn’t get a message that raising kids was very rewarding.

    I think one Gen X and Y factor is that the job market is so different today. You need more education to get a good job, and you have to pay your dues longer before you can ever land a job with any job security. It takes longer than it did for your parents to achieve some financial security, and in most couples both people have to work just to make ends meet. As a result, the younger generation puts off parenthood, puts off buying a home, stays in school longer, and works at more dead-end jobs. When people feel insecure about their economic future, they tend to be more cautious about having kids. (At least they should be….)

    I suspect in a lot of cases, people postpone thinking about having kids and come to realize they’re not actually missing out anyway, so why start now? The whole idea that women will put it off too long and then regret it later is probably the opposite of what happens for a lot of women – the postponement was an actual decision that they come to agree with later, not regret.

    1. Scott, I see what you are describing for a lot of Gen X and Y. As the choice to not have kids is more accepted, the question of Why start now? gets easier to ask and …answer!

  13. It’s so good to see people posting about their childfree lives. I’m male and have never wanted children. I always wanted to be married though, and was for nearly 15 years. However, now alone at 45 I feel profoundly unhappy as a single “childfree” guy.

    A woman who is 45 and without kids can go strutting about proclaiming she is childfree and you can bet a roomful of suitors will show up. A single guy who is 45, no kids, is just seen as lonely. And what’s with the dichotomy of No kids = big money making career if you’re female? Where are the female Slackers – no kids, not a lot of expenses, reg. job, enjoying life – !

    To me, Gen-X means FIRST and FOREMOST you are childfree; my generation expressed the ultimate dislike for how humans have treated the planet – and refuse to have a life anything like their parents. The Biggest way you can totally be unlike your parents is to Not have Kids.

    1. David, I don’t know but I bet there are lots of childfree women out there who would be interested in a single childfree guy….ladies??

  14. Yet another disturbing article:

    To be honest, when we first got married, children were neither on nor off the table. As time went on, however, the other factors we’ve discussed made it less and less appealing. Now, reading this (and I do realize these are extreme cases not necessarily the norm) it brings home just what a pleasant coincidence it has been that we ended up child free. This may well be the worst time in modern history to be raising kids.

    No thanks, glad not to participate!

    1. Steve–thanks for the link. disturbing indeed. Post worthy. The theory that the way kids are parented “stems from a tendency in U.S. society to adapt to and focus on the children, rather than teaching children to focus on others” is poignant. Pronatalism’s child-centrism at work and next, researchers need to go to the costs to themselves and society.

  15. Holy cow Alex…

    you are right, this article is a sobering read on raising children in today’s world!

    Louis Theroux Documentary ~” America’s Medicated Kids” is a jaw dropping doco on how children today are over-medicated to the gills for such things as “excessive daydreaming” or “being defiant” and these little ones are as young as three or four. What happened? And how is this OK? Is it the kids? Is it the parents? Is it the medical community over-prescribing? Too much TV? My god am I glad I am not dealing with this stuff!

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