Why are Couples Hesitant to Have Children?

People are increasingly unsure about children, and the US and European fertility rate is at an all-time low. According to Pew Research Center study, 1 in 5 people will remain childless. That’s doubled since the 1970s.

Women are not just delaying babies; they’re debating them altogether.

“Having children was once considered a necessity for every woman, but the last few years have shown shifting trends surrounding settling down.”

In a nationally-representative survey of single, childless people in 2011, more men than women said they wanted kids… Another poll from 2013 echoed those findings, with more than 80 percent of men saying they’d always wanted to be a father or at least thought they would be someday. Just 70 percent of women felt the same.”

There’s a joke we have in software regarding the inherent standoff between developers and managers, represented by a chicken (managers) and a pig (developers):

As a woman, that’s pretty much how “the kid conversation” feels.

When I broke up with an ex-partner, he made a last-ditch effort at staying together by saying: “but I wanna have kids with you!”

To be clear: the only time we’d talked “kids” was when we joked “probably not.” I was super busy (and super happy) at work, logging 12-hour days and weekends. I had zero interest in a baby. But when I said this, he countered,

“That’s okay — just have the kids and then I’ll raise them.”

I heard that and thought, “say what now??” Bud, I’m not a broodmare. I’m not going to be a surrogate to my own kids.

And like I said, we broke up.

And yet, bad argument or not, we’re all still left with the overarching question: should I have children?

In marriage, the biggest pushback was “religion.” So, In order to argue “religion,” you have to believe in it, and people who believe in it aren’t undecided on kids, so don’t need this post. It’s for everyone who doesn’t use religion, and needs discussions outside of it.

If you value social norms, you’ll probably have kids. Because even as childlessness becomes more common, it still isn’t socially accepted.

Psychology professor Leslie Ashburn-Nardo conducted a study where participants read about a fictional person (described as male or female with either zero or two children) and then shared their feelings on them.

What she found was astonishing. When childless, the fictional people were “perceived to be significantly less psychologically fulfilled,” and not only that, but participants expressed emotional reactions such as disgust, disapproval, annoyance, and anger towards them.

“People experience moral outrage when they perceive someone has violated a morally prescribed behavior, something we’re ‘supposed to do’ because it’s what we see as right.”

My ex-partner’s sudden urgency to have kids happened right after his friends started having them. When I asked about his change of heart, he admitted: “everyone else is doing it!”

We may laugh at this, but at least he was honest enough to say it.

But much like “religion,” this argument only works if you value social norms — and some of us don’t.

I don’t owe the world anything. Like, I’m also a talented visual artist but few people know this about me. I don’t owe the world art, and I don’t owe it kids.

Many people have kids because they “don’t want to regret not having them”— or because others threaten they will.

But, have you heard of FOMO? Because this is just FOMO — “fear of missing out.”

“FOMO frequently provokes feelings of anxiety and restlessness, often generated by competitive thoughts that others are experiencing more pleasure, success, or fulfillment in their lives than they are… FOMO behavior will continue to prevail and diminish the overall quality of well-being, and fulfillment in one’s relationships and life in general.”

And as Gabriele Moss wrote, if “you’re only doing it because you’re afraid of missing out” or “people say you’ll regret it if you don’t,” then you’re going at it all wrong.

But FOMO exists because:

“In the long run, people of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things they did.”

But that doesn’t necessarily mean those regrets are “correct!” It’s just how our brains work.

“The psychological immune system has a more difficult time manufacturing positive and credible views of inactions than actions.”

In other words: our brain struggles to conceptualize and fill the “white space” of not doing something, so we assign it with the biggest negative emotion and then call the thing “regret.”

Move towards the things you want; don’t just avoid the things that scare you.

Have kids because you’re ready to love — not because you’re terrified of regret or other risks.

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