Child-free adults are satisfied with their lives


Parenting is one of life’s greatest joys, right? Not for everyone. New study from Michigan State University psychologists examines characteristics and satisfaction of adults who choose to be child-free.

As more people acknowledge they simply don’t want children, Jennifer Watling Neal and Zachary Neal, both associate professors in MSU’s department of psychology, are one of the first to dive deeper into how these “child-free” people differ from others.

“Most studies haven’t asked the questions necessary to distinguish ‘child-free’ individuals — those who choose not to have children — from other types of nonparents,” Jennifer Watling Neal said. “Nonparents can also include the ‘not-yet-parents’ who are planning to have kids, and ‘childless’ people who couldn’t have kids due to infertility or circumstance. Previous studies simply lumped all nonparents into a single category to compare them to parents.”

The study utilized a set of three questions to identify people that don’t want children separately from parents and other varieties of nonparents. The investigators used data from a representative sample of 1,000 adults that completed MSU’s State of the State Survey, conducted by the university’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.

“After controlling for demographic characteristics, we found no differences in life satisfaction and limited differences in personality traits between child-free individuals and parents, not-yet-parents, or childless individuals,” Zachary Neal said. “We also found that child-free individuals were more liberal than parents, and that people who aren’t child-free felt substantially less warm toward child-free individuals.”

Past findings associated with life satisfaction and personality traits, the study unveiled further unexpected findings.

“We were most surprised by how many child-free people there are,” Jennifer Watling Neal said. “We found that more than one in four people in Michigan identified as child-free, which is much higher than the estimated prevalence rate in previous studies that relied on fertility to identify child-free individuals. These previous studies placed the rate at only 2% to 9%. We think our improved measurement may have been able to better capture individuals who identify as child-free.”

Given the large number of adults that don’t want children in Michigan, more attention has to be paid to this group, the researchers said. For example, the researchers explained their analysis only included one time point, so didn’t analyze when people chose not to have children — However, they expect forthcoming research can help the general public understand both when people begin identifying as child-free as well as the variables that cause this choice.

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Categories: Life