Andrew was in his early twenties when he realised he might never have kids. Now 30, and working in hospitality in the north of England, he's pretty much sure of it. “Often I’m working till 1AM, and with most of my money going into rent it leaves very little,” he says. "I regularly used to get asked when I would be settling down to start my own family. It’s taken a while for them to just get that I don’t want to."
He's not alone. Across the globe, the number of people having a kid is decreasing. In 2018, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated birth rates in the USA had hit an all-time low. Same goes for Korea. Meanwhile in Britain, the amount of newborns plunged to its lowest rate in 14 years.
There’s been plenty of research into why. A major study, published in The Lancet in late 2018, found a slump in total fertility rates (how many kids women were having in their lifetime, rather than the birth rate in a country per 1,000 people) between 1950 and 2017. A New York Times report cited careerism and financial insecurity. The Guardian looked into the couples who are giving up children to save the planet. Tech plays a part too – better, more accessible contraception and lower rates of infant death mean that today’s couples don't tend to have as many kids (if you know every child you have will survive, you're less likely to have loads, when you can access safe contraception too). Every sign points to the trend flagged up in that Lancet report: we're likely to have fewer kids than our parents' generation.
Rightfully, that conversation has largely focused on women. Conceiving later in life throws obstacles into women's paths, from potential health complications and the expectation that they have to choose between career and motherhood to declining fertility, often incorrectly only assumed to affect women. Some (often famous) ladies say they simply don't have time and opt for surrogate pregnancy. Others mention a lack of funding. In addition to all of that, babies are expensive. The charity Child Poverty Action Group estimates that you'd pay £75,436 to raise one in a couple, or £102,627 as a single parent (and that doesn't even factor in the cost of childcare).
And so I've frequently heard ex-partners and female friends consider maybe not having a child, in our conversations. My housemate, Tamara, 27, says she’d only want children if she could “surround them with more good than harm”, something she’d worry about when “raising them in a place where the future is viewed as terrifying”. You may have heard a similar sentiment echoed for the past few years.
Personally I’ve always wanted kids. But I live in a rented flatshare, which I can’t see myself moving out of anytime soon – plus, the climate emergency taps me on the shoulder every now and then to whisper that the world is slowly dying. Women may be constantly positioned in the media as “broody” yet I’m certain men are also weighing up what it would really mean to father children in our future. That's certainly true of David, a 34-year-old who's worked as an army officer, in pathology and in forensics. He explains to me that he “wouldn't want to bring a child into such an awful world. Plus, I wouldn't ever earn the money that would allow them the lifestyle to not be worried about these things.”
On the flip-side, some dudes just aren’t that bothered, at least not for reasons that extend beyond personal achievement. Daniel*, a media worker in his mid-30s, tells me: “I'm not hugely bothered about having kids but feel like if I don't I might never truly grow up. There's a bit of a split among my mates – those who had them around 30 and mostly lived outside of cities. Then the rest are Peter Pans and are saying, 'not for a few years'.”
However these blokes are in their thirties. To generalise, the younger generation are a little more connected to the environmental aspect. Science has consistently drilled into our heads that having a child is detrimental to the planet (an average of 58.6 tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions per year, in fact). It's certainly factored into 27-year-old Jamie’s decision not to have kids. He says: “I’m concerned about the detrimental effect it would have on the environment and planet as a whole.” Similarly, he mentioned adoption as a better option, considering how many orphans still grow up outside loving and stable families. "If you want children then there’s millions out there looking to be loved and insisting on having a child to further your own bloodline is a very archaic, selfish thing to do."
Alex, a 22-year-old graduate, is on that same route of thinking, too. As he puts it: “I don't really feel comfortable bringing someone into this world with the rate of climate change and lack of action to address it. I think I'll be lucky to die before we see serious impacts on our everyday lives, and I can't imagine deliberately bringing someone else in to contribute to the woes.”
Still, of all the responses I’ve had, men seem relatively reluctant to lean into the emotional side of having children. That is until I spoke to James*, a 37-year-old writer from London. “I'm in what dickhead pundits call the ‘metropolitan liberal elite, but constantly broke,” he says. “So the problem is economics. There are aspects of fatherhood I profoundly long for: giving another soul unconditional love, passing on what wisdom I've gained, watching this new mind develop,” which is cute.
So, all in all: men predominantly want kids too, but their concerns also run deeper than that. As James tells me: "There's something broken in how society is structured. That is undeniable. And not being able to have children is how I feel it affecting me, in the most deep and personal way."
*Some names have been changed