Child-Free Women at a Record High

Fewer women are having children than ever before. That's according to a new study released by the Pew Research Center, claiming that 2008, 80 percent more women remained child-free by age 44, as compared to 1976. Why are there more women without children? The answers aren't as obvious as you might think.

In 1976, only about 10 percent of women reached menopause without ever having children. In 2008, however, that number grew to almost 20 percent. While this trend is consistent among all racial groups, white, highly educated women made up the biggest group of childfree women:

  • 24 percent of women ages 40-44 with a bachelor's degree.
  • 25 percent of those with a master's degree and
  • 23 percent with a doctorate, professional, medical, or legal degree.

Rates for women remaining childfree have risen rapidly for African American, Hispanic, and Asian women too.

Single women who have never married are more likely to remain childfree than married or divorced women, but the rate of married women without children has also grown. 

These results are consistent with trends for women in other countries and may reflect a variety of social and health factors. Availability of contraception is one obvious reason why fewer women have children. But, that's not the only reason. There's now an increased societal acceptance of women who remain childfree. Less social pressure makes more women feel like a life without children can be full and valuable. Women are focusing more on careers, travel, political and community service, and education than ever before.

More women are choosing to delay marriage and motherhood than in previous generations and fertility decreases with age. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that 10 percent of all women of childbearing age (ages 15-44) struggle with infertility, defined as the inability to become pregnant after a year (or six months for women older than 35) of trying. 

Among women between ages 40 and 44, an equal number (6 percent) were childfree by choice as there were women who were involuntarily childless.

Are childfree women more or less healthy than women with children? There doesn't appear to be significant consistent links to increased health risks for women who don't have children. While studies indicate women who have never been pregnant or breastfed may be at higher risk for ovarian and breast cancer than women who've had children, that may be due to reduction in reproductive hormones during pregnancy and lactation, rather than to having a child.  Pregnancy and breastfeeding are not guaranteed to eliminate cancer risks. These increased risks can be balanced against pregnancy and childbirth-related health risks that can affect a woman throughout her life.

Whether it's by choice or by chance, more women are remaining childfree and their lives appear to be as happy and fulfilled as women with children.


Pew Research Center
More Women Without Children
by Gretchen Livingston and D'Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center

National Cancer Institute
What You Need To Know About Breast Cancer