Gen Z, millennials speak out on reluctance to become parents


NEW YORK — At 24, El Johnson has made up her mind that she won’t bear children, though she and her girlfriend haven’t ruled out adoption.

Graduate student working in Austin’s legal services has a number of reasons why she doesn’t want to have children. These include the climate crisis and a genetic condition.

“I don’t think it’s responsible to bring children into this world,” Johnson said. “There are already kids who need homes. I don’t know what kind of world it’s going to be in 20, 30, 40 years.”

She’s so sure, in fact, that she’ll soon have her tubes removed. It’s a precautionary decision sealed by the fall of Roe v. Wade and by tight restrictions on abortion services in her state and around the country.

Other women interviewed also cited climate change, along with overwhelming student debt coupled with inflation, as reasons they’ll never be parents. Some younger men are also considering vasectomy and some are already looking.

They play an important role in America’s low birth rate, regardless of their motivation.

A government report shows that the U.S. birthrate dropped 4% in 2020. It was the lowest single-year decline in nearly 50 year. Although there was a 1% increase in U.S. births in 2018, the number of children born was still below the level before the coronavirus epidemic. This is about 86,000 less than in 2019.

Kyah and Walter King live in suburb Las Vegas. Kyah King, 28, a college counselor and sports data scientist, is Walter’s 29-year-old husband. The last four years have been as a married couple. The realization that they didn’t want to have kids came on slowly for both of them.

“It was in our early 20s when the switch sort of flipped,” Kyah said. “We had moved to California and we were really just starting our adult lives. At one point, we were talking about having three children. It was just the economy and the current state of the world, and thinking about how to bring children into the world. That’s really when we started to have our doubts.”

Finances are important. The couple earns about $160,000 together before taxes. Kyah has about $120,000 student loan debt and Walter has about $5,000. The couple said they wouldn’t be able to buy a house and shoulder the costs of even one child without major sacrifices they’re not willing to make.

Kyah is a different kind of person.

“I think we would be great parents, but the thought of going into our health system to give birth is really scary. Black women, black mothers, are not valued in the same way that white mothers are,” said Kyah, who is Black.

When Kyah’s IUD expires, Walter said he’ll consider a vasectomy, a procedure that went on the rise among men under 30 during the pandemic.

Jordan Davidson interviewed more than 300 people for a book out in December titled, “So When are You Having Kids?” The pandemic, she said, led many to delay childbirth among those contemplating children at all.

“These timelines that people created for themselves of, I want to accomplish X by three years from now, changed. People weren’t necessarily willing to move the goalposts and say, OK, I’m going to forgo these accomplishments and do this differently,” she said. “People still want to travel. They still desire to attend graduate school. They still want to meet certain financial benchmarks.”

Davidson stated that climate change fears have made many people more comfortable living without children.

“Now with increased wildfires, droughts, heat waves, all of a sudden it is becoming real that, OK, this is happening during my time, and what is this going to look like during the time that my children are alive?” she said.

Emily Shapiro is a 23-year-old New York City copywriter at a pharmaceutical advertising agency. She earns $60,000 per year and lives at home because she saves money.

“They’re sticky. I could never imagine picking up a kid that’s covered in ice cream. I’m a bit of a germaphobe. I don’t want to change a diaper. If I did have one, I wouldn’t want them until they’re in, like, sixth grade. I also think the physical Earth isn’t doing so great so it would be unfair,” she said.

Jordan found that the concerns over the environment were much more prevalent among the younger generation. Both millennials as well as Gen Z members were concerned about affordability, she stated.

“There is a lot of fear around having children who would be worse off than they viewed themselves during their childhoods,” Davidson said.

Dannie Lynn Murphy, who works with Google to find software engineers, stated that she was just 17 years old when her home was removed by child protective services because of a pattern in child abuse. Her wife, she said, was similarly raised in a “not great” environment.

“Both of us at one point would have said yes to kids,” she said. “In my late teenage, early adult years, I saw and understood the appeal and was attracted to the idea of getting to raise someone differently than I was raised. But the practical realities of a child kind of suck.”

Murphy makes about $103,000 per year. Bonuses and equity can increase that figure up to $300,000. As an attorney, Murphy’s wife makes about $60,000 They don’t own their Seattle home.

“I can’t see myself committing to a mortgage, let alone a child,” the 28-year-old Murphy said. “I think the primary reason is financial. I’d prefer to spend that money on traveling than spending half a million dollars raising a child. Secondarily, there’s now the fear of behaving with our children the way our parents behaved with us.”

Alyssa, 31 years old, was raised in a small town in South Dakota. She said that the culture was very accustomed to having children and getting married. It wasn’t until after her divorce from her high school sweetheart that she took a step back and asked herself what she actually wanted out of life.

“Most women where I’m from lose their identities in motherhood,” said Persson, who now lives in St. Louis and earns about $47,000 a year as a university librarian.

She’s carrying student loan debt of about $80,000. Persson, a former teacher, loves children and feels more able to think clearly about the implications, costs, and sacrifices of parenting.

“Having children sounds like a trap to me, to be frank,” she said. “Financially, socially, emotionally, physically. And if there were ever any shadow of a doubt, the fact that I cannot comfortably support myself on my salary is enough to scare me away from the idea entirely.”

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