I’m male, 43 years old, heterosexual, athletic with a well-paid job and no children (I realise this is starting to sound like an online dating profile). It’s fair to say that statistically, I’m in the minority by not having (or wanting) children. What I find interesting is that you’re more likely to be questioned about why you don’t want kids versus when you do. Surely this is the wrong way around? If you do want children you should have a good explanation – it’s the biggest decision of your fricking life! It’s analogous to objecting to climbing Mount Everest, it’s bloody tough so you don’t need a reason. Ricky Gervais summaries it well while on stage in this short YouTube clip:
Is ‘baby fever’ real?
“We are survival machines—robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes”Richard Dawkins
It’s often claimed that wanting children is intrinsic. The term ‘Baby fever’ is used for the longing to have children, but is it real? Or put another way, what is it that makes us want to procreate? There are two popular views on this subject:
- The desire to have your own children is an evolved psychological mechanism to pass your genes to the next generation.
- The desire to have children is a social construct generated by advertising and social pressure.
We all have sexual urges, so from a Darwinian perspective, it doesn’t add up that we also evolved a desire to want parenthood. That implies evolution has designed some kind of backup system. As clinical as it may sound, I don’t believe we have a biological longing to want children, we want sex which is a super-efficient way of passing our genes to the next generation. However, to “combat” the use of contraception, there’s a compelling view that evolutionary change (with plenty of time) could make “baby fever” real.
Free will is an illusion
“Unfortunately, ‘free will’ isn’t a scientific reality. It is a myth inherited from Christian theology. Theologians developed the idea of ‘free will’ to explain why God is right to punish sinners for their bad choices and reward saints for their good choices.”Yuval Noah Harari
Not having free will is an idea that most people struggle with, we want to believe we’re in control, however, it’s not true. Subconsciously many of life’s choices are dictated from in/direct advertising, social pressure and media consumption. Once you’re aware of this, you start to question why you think the way you do. Your decision making and thoughts would undoubtedly be different if you lived in an environment free of smartphones. Einstein once described the illusion of free will akin to a self-conscious moon choosing to orbit the earth.
Positive stories of how parenthood is life-changing are abundant but what about those that regret the decision? Although statistics are sparse on such a taboo topic, one survey carried out by YouGov in Germany found 8% of participants regretting parenthood. Anecdotally, I have a friend that admits he doesn’t like his son and others that are unenthusiastic parents. When you search the Internet it’s not hard to find supporting information, in an article titled: The Myth of Joyful Parenthood the author starts abruptly by saying: “Raising children is hard, and any parent who says differently is lying. Parenting is emotionally and intellectually draining, and it often requires professional sacrifice and serious financial hardship.” In summary, life is unlikely to be a bed of roses and depending on your personality type, a childfree existence might be better for you.
Cognitive dissonance (a form of self-delusion) is a psychological mechanism we all have to justify our choices and beliefs to preserve our self-esteem. When a decision involves a large economic or emotional cost it can be especially prevalent. Controversial as this may sound, the joy of parenthood could be an example of cognitive dissonance. Researchers Richard Eibach and Steven Mock from Waterloo University ran an experiment that appeared to prove this hypothesis. However, I’m not totally convinced that all parents are fooling themselves; I know friends that are amazing parents that genuinely enjoy parenthood. That being said, society’s story that parenthood will increase wellbeing definitely won’t be true for everyone.
Love isn’t a good enough reason
A big motive for having children is love. How long love lasts depends on many things. Some evolutionary scientists believe that love (or more appropriately lust/attraction) lasts about four years on average (which is enough time for offspring to survive without two guardians). Another reason for high rates of relationship breakdown could be the evolutionary evidence that points towards us not being a monogamous species. Nuclear families are a new concept in our Homo sapien timeline and could be going against our genetic will. Richard Wright (author of The Moral Animal: Why we are the way we are) wrote: “When placed on the spectrum of sexual dimorphism, humans get a ‘mildly polygynous’ rating. We’re much less dimorphic than gorillas, a bit less than chimps, and markedly more than gibbons.” Based on statistics alone, love should not be the only reason to have children – you need to want parenthood.
Not doing what you’re told
I want to escape society’s system, this is the primary reason I don’t want children. Quite often the path laid out by society looks something like:
1. Get educated.
2. Get a job.
3. Get married and have kids.
4. Climb corporate ladder to pay for bigger home and children.
6. Maybe get divorced.
7. Spend the next 30 years looking forward to retirement.
8. Retire too old to enjoy it.
Office jobs are crap and mine is no exception, with children I’d have to “suck it up” and abandon dreams of escaping the rat race and doing the things I enjoy. We are animals (more specifically apes) driven by social status which makes going against the grain difficult but doing what society and our genes “tell us” won’t necessarily end in happiness.
I wrote this post as a counterargument to the consensus but it’s not meant as a “don’t have kids” message. As mentioned, I have friends that are amazing parents (we all know these people) but it’s not for everyone. There are no guarantees that parenthood will enrich your life and there’s nothing wrong or selfish about avoiding it.
Further reading on not wanting children
It’s the breaking of a taboo: the parents who regret having children:
The Myth of Joyful Parenthood: The Ultimate Cognitive Dissonance?
It’s hard to be a man who can’t, or won’t, have children:
The mothers who regret having children: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-43555736