Fears about declining fertility rates have come from sources as diverse as Pope Francis and Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson could force women to give birth against their wishes, while a recent British editorial even proposed a tax on people without children.
But how many Americans want to have kids and can’t? Or are still planning to be parents down the road? How many are consciously making the choice to never have kids?
While official statistics in the United States and elsewhere track fertility, they don’t provide insight into the people who have not had children. There are many different types of nonparents: “Childfree” people do not want children; “childless” people want children but can’t have them; “not-yet parents” plan to have children in the future; “undecided” people aren’t sure they will have children; and “ambivalent” people aren’t sure they would have wanted children.
In a 2022 study of 1,500 adults in Michigan, we found that 21.64% of adults do not want to have children and therefore are choosing to be childfree. While our survey wasn’t nationally representative, the 2021 Census showed that Michigan is demographically similar to the United States in terms of age, race, education and income. If the pattern we have observed in Michigan reflects national trends, it would mean 50 million to 60 million American adults are childfree.