By Alika Gugnina




After stoically striving for changes in a historically-imposed perception of feminine identity, feminists can finally relish their long-awaited moment of success. Widespread public interest in a "Childfree" movement serves as a decent rebuttal to the outdated stereotypes about females' role in a patriarchal society. According to the Wharton Business School’s research, more than 50% of surveyed millennials expressed their unwillingness to become a parent in 2012, and the numbers have only been rising ever since. Keeping in mind today’s clamouring issue of overpopulation and its disastrous consequences for the environment, a trend of voluntary childlessness appears as not only egalitarian but a highly sustainable and eco-friendly mindset. The question then is, why do more and more countries nowadays ring the alarm bells about the effects of shrinking fertility rates? Is not having kids the best thing one can do for the world's sustainability, or have womanists gone too far with that reasoning?




Before providing the reader with a definite answer, let us first take a look at a broader context of the problem. In 2001 The Population Reference Bureau demonstrated that the fertility rate dropped below the replacement level for more than 65 predominantly developed countries in the world (including the UK, Japan, USA and China), with 40 of those located in Europe (World Population Data Sheet, 2001). Replacement level fertility – an average number of kids per woman needed to replace the country’s dying population – is currently established at 2.1 children per mother (World’s Research Institute, 2013). At the same time, the numbers barely reached 1.3 for Germany, Italy, Austria, and Japan, with much less, approximately 1.0 children per woman in Hong Kong. Put differently, these populations are gradually dying out, whilst in the countries like Pakistan and Nigeria, the rates remain very high, 3.4 and 5.1 respectively, and only tend to increase with time.


As for major causes of low fertility rates, demographists distinguish between voluntary and involuntary childlessness. By definition, the latter comes as a result of financial or biological constraints of the couple (Baudin et al., 2012), whereas the former stands for a consciously made decision to not become a parent despite being fully capable of taking that role. Unsurprisingly, there is a U-shaped relation between the type of childlessness and the state’s level of development (Poston & Trent, 1982). Developing countries are naturally more exposed to involuntary childlessness due to weaker healthcare systems, hygiene factors, and the subsequent massive spread of venereal diseases. In turn, the developed ones mostly struggle with voluntary childlessness primarily due to more “degrees of freedom” granted to women, such as broader opportunities for employment and education.




Once finally given a chance to decide for themselves, more and more females nowadays opt for remaining childfree, with global financial instability, climate change related concerns, high ‘opportunity cost’ of childbearing and aspirations for unconditioned freedom being central reasons for that (Gillespie, 2003; Fleming, 2018). At first glance, such a trend might appear as a remarkable achievement in the fight for women’s rights that pertinently matches today's cautions on the overpopulation issue. Yet, in reality, the scale of a negative “domino-effect” it initiates universally from both economic, sociological, and demographical perspectives tend to be dramatically underestimated.



Aging population:


First and foremost, a short-term impact of lowered fertility rates on society will be reflected disproportionately, mainly reducing the share of youngsters instead of decreasing the size of a population as a whole. Together with a dramatic rise in life expectancy nowadays (Max Roser et al., 2013), it actually generates a ‘demographic time-bomb’ for humanity (Pettinger, 2019). Clearly, older individuals are heavily reliant on the state’s healthcare and pension systems. Therefore, an increased proportion of seniors will induce greater government spendings on the age-related costs, whilst a declined number of working-age younger people (being one of the main sources of treasury funding through income taxes) will conversely reduce the state’s budget. In an attempt to lower the financial gap resulting from smaller tax revenues, countries may have to increase their tax rates, which will certainly put the working class in an unfavourable position. Moreover, this will disincentivize capital investments as people facing a need to assign a bigger portion of income into pension funds will possess less free capital for doing so (KKR Global Institute et al., 2013). Needless to say that the economic growth of the countries will be notably hampered, despite the preventive measures taken by central banks to offset the diminishing public investments (Peter G. Peterson Foundation, n.d.).


Secular stagnation:


This brings us to the second argument against supporting volunteer refusal of parental status as a path for a sustainable future: the secular stagnation issue (ie. extended time of low economic growth). In the past midcentury, a downward tendency in the evolution of the overall economic growth rate was observed (The World Bank, 2022). Scientists mainly attribute that phenomenon to the ‘hangover’ from the world’s biggest financial crises and the states’ inefficient monetary policies, but the role aging population plays in it is not left unnoticed either (Pettinger, 2017). Aiming to stimulate consumer spendings and household investments, governments tend to lower interest rates, but the policy fails to reach its goal as people fear further augmentation of required pension savings mentioned earlier. Furthermore, the 2008/2009 recession recovery still has not been fully effectuated, with the COVID-19 crisis worsening the situation even more. However, not only did the pandemic decrease global economic activity but also instigated greater uncertainties about the future in society, which, to put it mildly, does not contribute to a more favourable climate for parenthood in any way (Bricker, 2021). Add to this the basics of an increasingly popular ‘hysteresis hypothesis’ (ie. the consequences of recession affect economy forever) – and tomorrow, wallowed in a liquidity trap, no longer seems promising (Engler & Tervala, 2018).


Labour force shortage:


Last but not least, a smaller number of youngsters implies a decrease in the available labour force, which will leave its mark on both intellectual and manual working industries (Pettinger, 2019). In simpler terms, less youth entails fewer innovations and technological advancements. Does this perspective sound like an aspect capable of accelerating a global transition towards sustainability? Rather the opposite. In order to counterweigh the shortage of workers, further reinforcement of immigration will be needed for the countries. Yet, despite the positive net fiscal effect it generates, the phenomenon still comes with certain political and economic challenges, making the measure somewhat unpopular (ex.Dustmann & Frattini, 2004).


Counterarguments & Rebuttal:


Overpopulation and Climate change:


Alternatively, the movement is often seen through the ‘ecological lens’ once argued pro. As practice shows, the lion's share of ‘Childfree’ proponents motivates their opinion by addressing the role of overpopulation on climate change. Recent American studies estimated that around 38% of young Americans perceived climate change as a factor to consider when deciding on children, with 33% aged 20 to 45 seeing it as a fair motive to have fewer kids (Miller, 2018; Ojala & Bengtsson, 2019). Definitely, it is hard to deny the urgency of the overcrowding issue for both current and future generations, and so is the efficiency of a childfree approach in tackling the problem. One fewer child means approximately 58,6 tonnes fewer carbon emissions, which is the most impactful measure known so far. Actions like switching to electric cars or being fully car free, recycling waste, eating plant-based, and using green energy, performed all together, will give us a 10,33 tonnes reduction of CO2 in the best-case-scenario, a result obviously incomparable with the effectiveness of going childfree (Wynes & Nicholas, 2017). However, becoming totally child-free is not a panacea for the environmental catastrophe. The previously listed consequences it implicates, if followed massively, will lead to another demographical crisis, just of a different nature. Doesn’t this mean humanity will end up choosing the lesser of two evils instead of actually correcting its mistakes? Besides, it is essential to highlight that the movement is only prevalent in the developed countries that frankly are not the main problem causers in case of extreme natality. Moreover, there is a link between a mother’s level of education and that of a kid (Williamson, 2022). Thus, if well-educated women prefer not to raise children, the number of individuals with a solid academic background, who would have the potential to accelerate the changes towards a greener world through innovations, will noticeably decrease in the short-term. One can argue that society will thereby be incentivized to provide opportunities for people with a modest background, but let us be realistic about the extent of inequality present as a status quo.


Gender equality and a Freedom of choice:


Additionally, the point on female freedom is often raised during the debates regarding voluntary renouncement of parenthood. Historically, a woman was perceived as a nurturing mother in the first place. Such mentality is rooted in our minds so deeply that any kind of nonconformity with this unspoken social dogma has always been publicly condemned and dispraised. Therefore, ‘Childfree’ today is nothing else but a huge step forward toward equality of sexes (Wood & Newton, 2006). Although the progress we achieved in debunking gender stereotypes is impressive, the true reasoning behind choosing voluntary childlessness should be questioned. Apart from the environmental concerns, the vast majority of women explain their choice based on the financial aspect, referring to the costliness of the childcare industry. Bringing up a child to the age of 21 in the UK, for example, takes approximately £231,843, more than purchasing a semi-detached house somewhere in the countryside (LV company, 2016). Likewise, relatively small child allowances combined with a high opportunity cost of forgoing work on parental leave hardly make the perspective of motherhood look more appealing. On top of that, it intensifies the degree of dependency on a child and, accordingly, the freedom ‘deprivation’ expected from newly minted parents. Hence, remaining childless is commonly seen as ‘a freedom to work for females and freedom from work for males’ (Veevers, 1980). This logic explicitly demonstrates that for some, the stimulus to childlessness is rather pragmatic than conceptual. Were the qualitative childcare facilities more affordable and parental leaves not so thriftless, many couples would have reconsidered their decision.



After investigating the main motives of voluntary childlessness and, most importantly, the consequences it implies for the world, we can conclude that the long-term disadvantages of the movement outweigh its immediate positive effects. An attempt to live a more sustainable life in terms of the overpopulation crisis by not giving birth at all appears to result in significant economic and demographical issues. Aging population, labour force shortage and secular stagnation phenomenon, arising from the shrinking fertility rates, just alter the nature of the problem instead of actually solving it. Therefore, a non-extreme and thoughtful approach to parenthood with moderated but not absolute zero number of kids will be the most sustainable lifestyle one can currently have. That being said, an acknowledgement of childbirth being, above all, an individual choice of a woman has to be encouraged in modern society. This is why the governments should subsidize the childcare industry to ensure its affordability and accessibility for the public, adjust its tax policies accordingly, and support parental leaves in order to incentivize childbearing while still leaving the choice up to people themselves.





Baudin T, de la Croix D, Gobbi P (2012) DINKs, DEWKs and Co., marriage, fertility and childlessness in the United States. IRES Discuss Pap 2012/13

Bricker, D. (2021, June 15). In many countries, COVID-19 has suppressed population growth by

causing a decline in births, migration and life expectancy [Economic forum]. World Economic



Dustmann, C., & Frattini, T. (2004). The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK. The Economic



Engler, P., & Tervala, J. (2018). Hysteresis and fiscal policy. Journal of Economic Dynamics and

Control, 93, 39–53.


Fleming, A. (2018, June 20). Would you give up having children to save the planet? Meet the couples who have, The Guardian.


Gillespie, Rosemary (2003). Childfree and feminine. Understanding the gender identity of voluntarily childless women. Gender & Society, 17(1), 122–136.


KKR Global Institute, CAMPBELL ROBERTS, P. A. U. L. A., & MEHLMAN, K. E. N. (2013).

What Does Population Aging Mean for Growth and Investments? KKR Global Institute.



LV company. (2016, February 15). Raising a child is more expensive than buying a house. Retrieved May

20, 2022, from


Max Roser, Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Hannah Ritchie (2013) - "Life Expectancy". Published online at Retrieved from: ''


Miller, C. C. (2018, July 5). Americans are having fewer babies. They told us why., The New York Times.


Ojala, M., & Bengtsson, H. (2019). Young people's coping strategies concerning climate change: Relations to perceived communication with parents and friends and pro-environmental behaviour. Environment and Behavior, 51(8), 907–935


Peter G. Peterson Foundation. (n.d.). The Fiscal & Economic Impact. PGPF. Retrieved May 17, 2022,



Pettinger, T. (2017, October 12). Causes of secular stagnation. Economicshelp. Retrieved May 17,

2022, from


Pettinger, T. (2019, July 22). The impact of an ageing population on the economy. Economicshelp.

Retrieved May 16, 2022, from


Poston DL, Trent K (1982) International variability in childlessness: a descriptive and analytical study. J Fam Issues 3(4):473–491

The World Bank. (2022). GDP growth (annual %)- European Union. Retrieved May 18, 2022, from



Veevers, J. E. (1980). Childless by choice. Toronto, CA: Butterworths.


Williamson, C. [Chris Williamson]. (2022, January 19). Jordan Peterson - More Than 50% Of Women

Are Childless At 30 [Video]. YouTube.

Wood, Glenice J., & Newton, Janice (2006). Childlessness and women managers: ‘Choice’, context and discourses. Gender, Work and Organization, 13(4), 338–358.

World’s Research Institute. (2013, August 7). Achieving Replacement Level Fertility. World

Resources Institute. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from



Wynes, S., & Nicholas, K. A. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: education and government

recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters.


2001 World Population Data Sheet. (2001). Population Dynamics Research Center.