Most child-free Americans decide in their teens and 20s not to have kids: study

Story at a glance


  • Michigan State University researchers, for a study published in Scientific Reports, identified childfree adults by using data from a representative sample of 1,500 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey. 

  • They found that 21.6 percent of those surveyed – or about 1.7 million people – did not want children, making them childfree. 

  • The study’s findings would translate into 50 to 60 million Americans being childfree, researchers said. 

Most American adults who do not want children made the decision to be childfree early in life, according to a new study.  

Michigan State University researchers, for a study published in Scientific Reports, identified childfree adults by using data from a representative sample of 1,500 adults who completed MSU’s State of the State Survey. 

Researchers used three questions to differentiate between people who did not want children and adults without children. They added that distinguishing the group of people who did not want children is typically difficult to study with conventional data. 

They found that 21.6 percent of those surveyed – or about 1.7 million people – did not want children, making them childfree. Approximately 3.6 percent said they knew before the age of ten that they did not want kids. 

“People — especially women — who say they don’t want children are often told they’ll change their mind, but the study found otherwise,” Jennifer Watling Neal, associate professor in the psychology department at MSU and co-author of the study, said in a news release

“People are making the decision to be childfree early in life, most often in their teens and twenties. And, it’s not just young people claiming they don’t want children. Women who decided in their teens to be childfree are now, on average, nearly 40 and still do not have children.” 

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Watling Neal said due to the similarities of the Michigan population to the U.S. population, the study’s findings would translate to 50 to 60 million Americans being childfree. 

Researchers said the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade already put women who decided to remain childfree at risk.  

“Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, a large number of Americans are now at risk of being forced to have children despite not wanting them,” said Watling Neal. 

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