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The Adults Celebrating Child-Free Lives

From consciously child-free influencers, to online communities for people who’ve decided against having kids, the no-kids movement is booming – but so is the backlash.

BBC Worklife

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Veronica Prager and Rick Grimes of the Childfree Connection community

The Childfree Connection

In one of Marcela Munoz’s most recent videos, the 27-year-old dances in a sunny park, wearing denim shorts and high tops. This carefree, untethered social-media post is the embodiment of her mission to celebrate her child-free lifestyle. As the owner of Childfree Millennial TikTok, Instagram and YouTube accounts, Munoz is one of a growing number of influencers producing content designed to validate why they never want to have kids.

“The number-one thing that I always say when people ask me why I’m child-free – it’s because I don’t have a desire to have children,” says Munoz, a small-business owner from Kansas, US. She also believes kids would interfere with her passions for spontaneous travel, football training and regular lie-ins. In one of her other recent posts, she jokes, “if you have baby fever take a nap, if you enjoyed that nap don’t have kids”. “I can’t tell you how many times my [parent] friends are like ‘Oh my gosh, I only got two hours of sleep last night, my kids were throwing up and I had to take care of that,’” says Munoz. “That doesn’t sound appealing to me at all!”

While deciding against having children is nothing new, a trend for owning the ‘child-free’ label and discussing that choice more openly is picking up pace. Alongside the rise of individual influencers like Munoz, online communities and support groups for child-free adults have mushroomed in the past couple of years. But while the child-free movement is growing, researchers argue that societal acceptance and understanding of the choice to live without kids is shifting at a much slower pace.

Choosing a life without kids

Most child-free online communities define their members as people who have consciously decided never to have children. This contrasts with other adults who don’t currently have kids, but want them in the future, or adults who had hoped to have children, but were unable to (usually labelled ‘childless’). Childless people may have faced fertility challenges or other medical issues, or been affected by social circumstances, such as not meeting a suitable or willing partner at the right time, for instance.

The term ‘child-free’ has existed since the early 1900s, although it wasn’t until the 1970s that feminists began using it more widely, as a way of denoting women who were voluntarily childless as a distinct group. The suffix ‘free’ was chosen to capture the sense of freedom and lack of obligation felt by many of those who had voluntarily decided not to have kids.

However, most academic research has typically “lumped all people who don’t have children into the same group,” explains Elizabeth Hintz, an assistant professor in communication at the University of Connecticut, US, who’s studied perceptions of child-free identities. This doesn’t reflect the very different experiences and feelings of child-free and childless people, she says, and means there’s a lack of long-term comparative data looking specifically at either group.


Marcela Munoz, 27, runs child-free social media accounts to share her lifestyle (Credit: Courtesy of Marcela Munoz)

Nevertheless, in our hashtag-heavy social media age, the ‘child-free’ label is gaining fresh momentum, says Hintz, as more people who’ve opted not to have children have reclaimed the word. This trend sits alongside some research that suggests growing numbers of adults in the West may be actively choosing not to have kids. In the US, a 2021 Pew Research Center study showed some 44% of non-parents aged 18 to 49 don’t think they will have children, up from 37% in 2018. More than half listed their main reason as “don’t want to have children” rather than more circumstantial factors such as medical issues or not wanting to raise a child without having a partner. In England and Wales, a 2020 YouGov study suggested that more than half of British 35-to-44-year-olds who haven’t had kids never plan on doing so.

The reasons people don’t want children

The reasons millennials and Gen Zers are choosing to be child-free are wide-ranging, says Hintz, although there are several common trajectories.

“There are people who know early in life that they don’t want children and they never waver. There are people who come to the decision later in life and then proclaim it as a part of their identity. And then there are people who are sort of on the fence about whether to have children that might flip-flop back and forth.”

Ciara O’Neill, a London-based 31-year-old social media manager, puts herself firmly in the first category. “I’ve never really wanted to have a child, or I’ve never really seen myself as like a future parent,” she says. “I don’t feel like I have this maternal yearning to procreate, really.” Her boyfriend of three years feels the same way, she says, and the couple also believes having kids would make it more challenging for them to travel or work abroad in the future.

For Cristina Garcia Trapero, an English teacher working in Spain, deciding she wanted to identify as child-free was more of a gradual process. “When I was a teen or in my early 20s, I thought about kids, but it was because I believed that was what everyone had to do,” she says. Now 32 and currently single, she started embracing a child-free identity a couple of years ago, after concluding she couldn’t see herself as a mum. “I am a person who enjoys silence and alone time, and I wouldn’t be able to have that with kids,” she says.

Garcia Trapero also lists “climate change and the state of the world” as external factors that influenced her reasoning, reflecting a small but growing trend identified by child-free researchers such as Hintz. In the 2021 Pew Research study, 9% of non-parents said that “the state of the world” was the reason they probably won’t have kids, with 5% citing a concern for the environment.

“I’ve never really wanted to have a child, or I’ve never really seen myself as like a future parent. I don’t feel like I have this maternal yearning to procreate, really” – Ciara O’Neill

Margaret O’Connor, a counsellor and psychotherapist in Limerick, Ireland, works primarily with clients in Hertz’s so-called “flip-flop” group, and hosts the Are Kids for Me? podcast. She says practical and financial issues like living in insecure rental accommodation, working in the gig economy and limited access to healthcare are also increasingly pertinent for many millennials, as they weigh up whether to have children.

“These things can maybe be mitigated or navigated to a degree if the desire is strong enough to have a baby – you can move or get a different job,” she explains. However, she says growing numbers of young people who are uncertain about becoming parents are stopping to question what exactly those kinds of “sacrifices” might look like, in contrast to previous generations, who may have been more likely to follow societal norms and start a family, anyway.

Increased awareness of the potential physical and mental toll of starting a family is also having an influence, says O’Connor. “The women that I work with are really taking account of the impact of pregnancy and childbirth, and also their ability to be as engaged as they want physically and mentally,” says O’Connor. “Whether people live near their family of origin or friends network is also definitely a factor.”

The rise of child-free advocates

For a generation that grew up sharing everything on social media, Munoz argues that child-free millennials initially dragged their heels when it came to vocalising and celebrating their decisions online, but says there’s been “a big shift” in recent years. She argues that there’s been a snowball effect, with more people starting to feel comfortable talking about their experiences, after seeing “how open and vocal” other intentional non-parents have become.

“When I started my Instagram account, there were maybe three or four other child-free Instagram accounts … But now, two years later, fast forward – there are hundreds, hundreds and hundreds of child-free accounts,” she says. “You can tell that there’s some sort of a movement going on right now.”

 On Instagram, the hashtag #childfree has garnered more than 311,000 posts. And on TikTok, where Munoz is also active, the hashtags #child-free and #childfreebychoice have rocketed in popularity during the past couple years, with 570 million views and 391 million views of each tag, respectively. Munoz’s TikTok strikes a light and comedic tone, but she says the subject still spawns plenty of deeper discussions about some of the pressures experienced by people who are child-free. For instance, some of her followers know they don’t want children, but feel they could risk losing friendships or disappointing their own parents if they decide to be childfree.


Margaret O’Connor hosts the Are Kids for Me? podcast (Credit: Courtesy of Margaret O’Connor)

“I’m not one to get into debates or be argumentative about things I am passionate about, so I find humour to be my outlet in expressing my child-free choice,” says Munoz. “I’ll just add that at the end of all my YouTube videos, I always say, ‘this is your life, these are your decisions, live your best life’...Don’t live the way your mom wants to live. Don’t do what your best friend wants you to do. Don’t do what your neighbour wants.”

She says child-free content creators are providing the kind of community she felt was missing when she started to embrace her own child-free identity in her mid-20s, but didn’t know anyone else in the same boat. “I really thought I was the only person in the world who didn’t want to have kids,” she says. “The community has just kind of solidified my decision, and has helped me also open other people’s eyes to the fact that, yes, [being child-free] is a choice.”

Another burgeoning online community is We Are Childfree, run by British-born Zoë Noble and her partner James Glazebrook, who are both in their early 40s, and live in Berlin. The group uses photojournalism, podcasts and meet-ups to celebrate the different ways in which child-free people live fulfilling lives. As of now, it has built up 66,000 followers across its social media platforms, since launching during the pandemic.

Reddit’s global child-free subreddit is swelling, too. It recently reached 1.5 million subscribers, up from fewer than a half-million a decade ago, when University of Connecticut’s Hintz began studying its threads. Here, people post anecdotes about some of the unsolicited comments or microaggressions they get from family members and strangers (such as “you’ll change your mind”, “you’re just too focussed on your career aren’t you” or “don’t you want a little you?”). Others use it as a space to debate wide ranging topics related to being child-free, such as access to sterilisation, expressing a child-free identity within the LGBTQ community or how to approach being child-free when dating.

From boom to backlash

Experts say the boom in influencers and online communities celebrating being child-free is, on one hand, an indication that societal norms are shifting. The sheer number of people going online and finding others who share their perspectives is notable, says Hintz. “My sense is that [some] people are loud and proud about it because it’s been something that’s increasingly less taboo.”

Exactly why taboos have shifted is likely down to a confluence of different factors, says Hintz. Crucially, non-parents are becoming increasingly aware of others who don’t have children – whether via their own social circles or via online communities – simply since it’s become more common. “Knowing someone personally who belongs to a stigmatised group can be one of the most powerful catalysts for changing one’s own prejudicial views,” she says. Meanwhile, “as the child-free path becomes increasingly well-trodden, online communities become places of respite for intentional non-parents”.

“I really thought I was the only person in the world who didn’t want to have kids. The community has just kind of solidified my decision, and has helped me also open other people’s eyes to the fact that, yes, [being child-free] is a choice” – Marcela Munoz

The pandemic may also have played a role, Hintz suggests, as public discussions about the challenges faced by many parents came to the fore. As parents began talking openly about their struggles with home-schooling, nursery closures or simply managing basic living expenses due to the economic impact of Covid-19, this provided a safer backdrop for talking about the advantages of being child-free.

Yet Hintz also points out that child-free content also generates “a lot of strong opinions” from outside the community, which indicates there is still a lack of respect or understanding for child-free adults from some quarters.

Munoz’s content has frequently attracted harsh online comments from those who’ve disparaged her choices as being “anti-child” or “selfish”, or from followers who simply don’t believe she could find her lifestyle fulfilling. “A lot of parents just don’t understand that it was a choice. And so, they see it as an attack on their choice of having children,” she says. “They immediately go on the defence mode and tell you, ‘oh, but you’re going to regret it’ and ‘you’re going to die alone’, and ‘who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?’ and ‘you’ll never know true love’.”

Munoz, a Christian, says she has also been criticised by some in her religious community, both online and within her own congregation, who believe she’s rejecting the Bible’s focus on procreation. Others have accused her of turning her back on her Hispanic background. “People will be like ‘your culture, your heritage, you have to pass it down to generation after generation – what are you doing?!’”

Hintz points out that much of the criticism hurled at child-free advocates tends to be steeply gendered. “Reproductive decision making has always been a burden placed on women more so than their partners,” she says. “And motherhood and femininity are so closely intertwined as well, so that is also, I think, a part of it.” As a result, this means there’s still often more pressure on women than men to follow a traditional “life script” and start a family, says Hintz, even in Western countries that have made great strides towards equality.

A new ‘life script’?

Helping Gen Z and millennials get a better handle on what their alternative “life scripts” could look and feel like is a core goal for many child-free activists. “It’s still not what the majority of people do. So, if it’s different, it’s scary,” says O’Connor. “There is a bit of pressure that if you’re not having children, you have to be off living this wonderful, glamorous or philanthropic life, or that you have to go off and do something significant.”

Instead, she hopes her podcasts, social media channels and counselling sessions can help raise awareness that a child-free life might also just “be your regular day-to-day life, just not having children”. “It could be volunteering. It can be being involved in your own family’s or friends’ lives as a support. But really it is whatever is important to you, or whatever you want it to be.”


Veronica Prager, 46, and Rick Grimes, 51, run the Childfree Connection online community (Credit: The Childfree Connection)

One couple hoping to be older pinups for a happy, regular life without kids are fiancés Veronica Prager, 46, and Rick Grimes, 51. Based out of Austin, Texas, they run the Childfree Connection online community, through which they share what they’ve learned about being child-free in their 30s, 40s and beyond. “There’s a lot on TikTok or whatever of like, ‘I’d rather be at the club than having to take care of a kid’. Which is interesting and which is fine, and makes sense for them at the time. But there does come a time where you’re not going to be at the club,” says Pager.

The couple currently spends their time kayaking, looking after their dogs and working flexibly from different locations. Despite never wanting their own kids, they also love hanging out with their nephews and nieces, and their content offers advice on how to navigate and maintain relationships with close friends and family who are parents.

“There are a lot of accounts out there that do a lot of ‘kid bashing’ and, like, ‘oh, we have it better’ and that type of thing. And that’s not what we’re about,” explains Grimes. “It’s more about just what this life feels, looks like, what you can expect.”

Practical and financial issues are also covered, including how to plan for retirement as a non-parent. “There’s a lot of fear of getting older and ‘who’s going to take care of me’ and ‘what is my future going to look like’? So, we’re right now doing it ourselves so that we can share it with our community,” says Prager. The couple even offer advice for members with lingering doubts about being child-free. “There are days where you’re going to feel very confident about your choice, and then all of a sudden the next day, you’re going to have fear of missing out,” says Grimes. “That inner struggle going back and forth is important to keep a handle on, and [many need] to have a place to go, to get that support.”

Shifting societal stigma

How much the child-free movement could have an impact on future generations’ decisions to have children, or wider perceptions of non-parents, is still up for debate.

O’Connor says it’s important to point out that most child-free advocates “are very pro-choice for everyone”, and don’t have the goal of “convincing people to be child-free” or “trying to recruit for the community”. But she hopes that as online groups grow and gain more prominence, they’ll help more people who are unsure about having kids to better understand their options, and give those who are already child-free more tools to “facilitate” their lifestyle choice.

“There are days where you’re going to feel very confident about your choice, and then all of a sudden the next day, you’re going to have fear of missing out. That inner struggle going back and forth is important to keep a handle on” – Rick Grimes

Hintz is confident being child-free will become even “more normalised” in the coming years, simply because of the increasing proportion of people who aren’t having children now. She hopes this will help to combat some of the stigma that “child-free people are selfish and miserable”, since those who have or want kids will naturally start to come across more child-free singles or couples who can help to buck that myth.

However, whether this results in bigger shifts in public opinion will, she argues, likely also be influenced by the wider political, media and religious climate in any given location. For instance, those living in a predominantly right-wing, Christian, pro-life suburb might be less likely to change their attitudes towards intentional non-parents than those based in bigger, more liberal cities, even as more consciously child-free people emerge in their own communities.

O’Connor strongly agrees that the media has an important role to play moving forward. “There’s a lack of positive representation of what being child-free or childless looks like in society,” she says. “We don’t have in the wider media, in TV shows and in film, older people living just happy content, child-free lives.”

In the meantime, social media influencers like Munoz argue there’s already a lot to celebrate in terms of how much more visible the child-free movement has become throughout the past couple years.

“More and more articles are coming out about people not having kids … and seeing more accounts pop up, more channels being created on YouTube, it’s so refreshing,” she says. “I’m not discriminatory to people who have kids. I have a lot of friends in my life who are parents. But I just love that people are now thinking a little bit deeper about parenthood, rather than just assuming it’s the thing to do.”

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This post originally appeared on BBC Worklife and was published December 19, 2023. This article is republished here with permission.

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