Voluntary childlessness in women is defined as women of childbearing age who are fertile and do not intend to have children, women who have chosen sterilization, or women past childbearing age who were fertile but chose not to have children. Individuals can also be "temporarily childless" but want children in the future. The availability of reliable contraception along with support provided in old age by systems other than traditional familial ones has made childlessness an option for some people in developed countries. In most societies and for most of human history, choosing to be childfree was both difficult and undesirable. To accomplish the goal of remaining childfree, some individuals undergo medical sterilization or relinquish their children for adoption.
Factors Involved in Voluntary Childlessness
First, while younger women are more likely to be childless, older women are more likely to state that they intend to remain childless in the future. Thus age plays a significant role in the decision. Further, according to 2004 U.S. Census Bureau data, the proportion of childless women 15 to 44 years old was 44.6%, up from 35% in 1976. The higher a woman's income, the less likely she is to have children: Nearly half of women with annual incomes over $100,000 are childless. Third, being unmarried is one of the strongest predictors of childlessness.
Research also suggests that married individuals who were concerned about the stability of their marriages were more likely to remain childless. Most studies on this subject find that higher income predicted childlessness. However, some women report that the lack of financial resources was a reason why they decided to remain childless. Childless women in the developed world often express the view that women ultimately have to make a choice between motherhood and having a career. Lastly, the chance of being childless was far greater for never married women (35 to 44 yrs old), 82.5% vs. ever-married (12.9%). Chance of childlessness (age 35 to 44) by education level: graduate or professional degree (27.6%) vs non high school graduate (13.5%), high school graduate (14.3%), some college but no degree (24.7%), associate degree (11.4%), and bachelor's degree (18.2%). The higher the level of education, the more likely a woman is to remain childless.
Social Attitudes to Remaining Childless
Most societies place a high value on parenthood in adult life, so that people who remain childless intentionally are sometimes stereotyped as being "individualistic" people who avoid social responsibility and are less prepared to commit themselves to helping others. With the advent of environmentalism and concerns for stewardship, those choosing to not have children are also sometimes recognized as helping reduce our impact, such as members of the voluntary human extinction movement . Some childless individuals are sometimes applauded on moral grounds, such as members of philosophical or religious groups, like the shakers.
Voluntary Human Extinction Movement
With the advent of environmentalism and concerns for stewardship, those choosing to not have children are also sometimes recognized as helping reduce our impact, such as members of the voluntary human extinction movement.
Some opponents of the childfree choice consider such a choice to be "selfish." The rationale of this position is the assertion that raising children is a very important activity. Proponents of child freedom posit that choosing not to have children is no more or less selfish than choosing to have children. In fact, choosing to have children may be the more selfish choice, especially when poor parenting risks creating many long-term problems for both the children themselves and society at large.
Organizations and Political Activism
Childfree individuals do not necessarily share a unified political or economic philosophy, and most prominent childfree organizations tend to be social in nature. Childfree social groups first emerged in the 1970s, most notable among them The National Organization for Non-Parents and No Kidding! in North America. Numerous books have been written about childfree people and a range of social positions related to childfree interests have developed along with political and social activism in support of these interests. The term "childfree" was used in a July 3, 1972 Time article on the creation of the National Organization for Non-Parents. It was revived in the 1990s when Leslie Lafayette formed a later childfree group, the Childfree Network.