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No kids, no problem – Many young adults think that it’s morally wrong to have children
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No kids, no problem – Many young adults think that it’s morally wrong to have children

No kids, no problem -- Many young adults think it's 'morally wrong' to have children


The top concerns of those who feel that the climate crisis has impacted their reproductive future include overconsumption and overpopulation. Arizona University researchers found that young adults are increasingly concerned about the environment. This could have serious consequences for the future. 

Image credit: Flickr/ Victoria Pickering

Almost 38%A majority of US citizens between 18 and 29 believe that couples should take into account climate change when considering having children. while 33%Ages 20-45 cited climate as one reason they had fewer children. If this becomes a widespread belief, we’ll need to start figuring out what this means on an environmental, societal, and psychological level. 

Understanding motivation

There have been previous studies analyzing people’s tendency of going childfree, but the concerns and motivations of individuals of people doing so in response to climate change haven’t been properly investigated. This was a multi-method study that a group of researchers attempted to investigate and understand the possible consequences. 

“For many people, the question of whether to have children or not is one of the biggest they will face in their lives,” Sabrina Helm, the study lead author, said in a statement. “If you are worried about what the future will look like because of climate change, obviously it will impact how you view this very important decision in your life.”

Every new child born into the world will consume resources like water, food, energy, and cause more pollution to land, water and air. In fact, a study calculated that having one fewer child would lead to 58.6 tons of CO2 emission reductions — and it’s pretty much the most eco-friendly thing you can do. But these ideas aren’t really regarded as mainstream in society.

Helm and a team were joined by a group of researchers to first use content analysis to analyze reader comments on articles in online press. They wanted to understand the wide range opinions surrounding pro-childfree climate changes. They selected articles after a Google search using terms such as “no kids/children” and “birth strike.”

The comments section was dominated by discussions between readers about what they thought were the main drivers of climate changes. Overpopulation, or the belief that there is too many people on the earth, was the most prevalent concern. Others noted high birth rates and excessive consumption in developed countries. 

The researchers then conducted a series of semi-structured interviews of young adults aged 18 to 35 in New Zealand and the US. This was done to gain a better understanding about what they had read on the internet comments. The data was collected in October and December 2019, with 12 interviews being conducted in each country.

Participants all agreed that not having children is the best decision one can make for the environment. Some participants were more certain that they could change their mind and have kids in the future, while others were more stubborn about their decision. The most popular reasons were an uncertain future, overconsumption, or overpopulation.

Almost all participants were concerned about how having children can lead to resource overuse in relation to future and current consumption levels. They expressed concern about future shortages and felt responsible for the emissions their children would emit. 

Many participants felt misunderstood or misunderstood in their relationships with family and friends. Many participants stated that their relatives wanted them to have children. They believed that as they age, they would be able to change their minds. Several participants were also concerned that their partners might not support their decision. 

For the researchers, the findings point at immediate implications for society. The social system and economy would be affected if the birth rate falls further in high-income countries. This could include a shortage of labor. As young people feel the emotional strain of the climate crisis, there could be an impact on health policy. 

“Many people now are severely affected in terms of mental health with regard to climate change concerns,” Helm said. “Then you add this very important decision about having kids, which very few take lightly, and this is an important topic from a public health perspective. It all ties into this bigger topic of how climate change affects people.”

The article was published in the journal Population and Environment. 


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