In 1997, Candace Korasick, a 32-year-old graduate student from Columbia, Mo., launched the ChildFree Web site to link up with others like herself: married people who don't want children. Within days of posting the site, Korasick says, she was inundated with grateful e-mails from other deliberately childless couples, and was even offered cash donations toward maintaining the site.
Korasick and her husband, John, 30, are members of a small but growing demographic group here in the U.S. According to the Census Bureau's 1998 Current Population Survey, a greater percentage of women of all ages are not having children. In that year, 5.7 million (or 18.4 percent) married women of childbearing age (defined by the Census as between 15 and 44 years old) were childless. And many of them like it that way. The National Center of Health Statistics confirms that the percentage of women of childbearing age who define themselves as voluntarily childless is on the rise: from 2.4 percent in 1982, to 4.3 percent in 1990, to 6.6 percent in 1995 (the most recent available figure). That's 4.1 million women saying no to motherhood in 1995.
It's a trend that applies to all age groups: For the 25 to 29 bracket, 28 percent were childless in 1998, up from 16 percent in 1976; for 30- to 34-year-olds, it was 20 percent, compared with 11 percent in 1976; for 40- to 44-year-olds, 19 percent were childless, up from 10 percent in 1976. The 2000 census figures on fertility weren't available at press time, but Amara Bachu, co-author of the Census Bureau's 1998 report, â€œFertility of American Women,â€? says: â€œFrom the data we've gathered so far, it looks like childlessness is continuing to go up.â€?
The reasons for opting out of parenthood range from religion to ideology to simple lifestyle preference. (See Sidebar, next page.) Yet, whatever their motives, these couples say they are either overlooked or looked down upon by the surrounding, child-oriented society. â€œWhen I refer to â€˜my family,â€™ people seem baffled,â€? says Candace Korasick. â€œThey say, â€˜I thought you didn't have kids.â€™ I absolutely consider my husband and myself a family, but other people don't even use family terminology for us.â€?
In recent years, a number of Web sites, including Korasick's, (web.missouri.edu/~cak307), have popped up, such as Child-free by Choice (www.childfree.net) and Childfree Families (http//188.8.131.52/cf.nsf/main), as well as social networks such as No Kidding!, an organization with 68 chapters in North America, up from 47 last year. The members of this group are not only clamoring to be recognized by society, but also by businesses. â€œCouples without children are totally ignored as a group, and businesses lose money that way,â€? says Karen Smith, co-founder of the Leavenworth, Wash.-based organization Childless by Choice. â€œWe are not to be lumped with single people or empty-nesters. After all, we're different ages, we have different priorities, different expenses, and we're at completely different life stages.â€? Adds Scott Wenzel, 39, a computer consultant from Knoxville, Md., who is married and childless: â€œWe're probably the largest and least recognized group in Western society right now.â€?
Yet, as consumers, this diaper-free brigade wields considerable financial clout. According to analysis done for American Demographics by Third Wave Research Group, a Madison, Wis.-based demographic marketing firm, childless couples spend more per person in almost every consumer category than their married-with-children counterparts (See methodology, left). In general, married couples without kids have more discretionary income than households with children, says Ed Wallander, a principal at Third Wave.
â€œMarketers may take childless couples for granted when marketing to married couples as a whole,â€? says Wallander. â€œBut their discretionary income and their buying patterns â€” as well as their size and their growth â€” show that couples without children should be recognized as a unique marketing opportunity.â€? He points out that in some spending categories, the higher per-person outlays by childless couples are especially notable: Compared with couples with kids, they spend 60 percent more on entertainment, 79 percent more on food and 101 percent more on dining out. (See chart, previous page.) They also spend a lot on booze, clothing and â€” surprisingly â€” pets. â€œSome clichÃ©s are true,â€? says Elinor Burkett, author of The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless (Free Press, 2000). â€œChildless couples very often have pets, and they spend a lot of money on them. They also tend to be insanely generous to their nieces and nephews. Part of it may be overcompensation.â€?
The spending behavior of childless couples rests on some attractive demographic qualities. Two-income couples without children are better educated than two-income couples with children. As of 1998, the census reports, 30 percent of childless couples consisted of two college graduates, compared with 17 percent of those with kids. The childless are more likely to have professional or managerial occupations (24 percent versus 16 percent of dual-employed couples with children). Although there is little difference in income (55 percent of childless couples have incomes over $50,000 versus 54 percent of couples with children), childless families have no child-related expenses to contend with. They don't have to save for their child's college education, let alone pay preschool tuition. They don't need to pay for diapers or baby food or their children's health care. There are no pediatrician bills, no orthodontists and no family-size SUVs. They also don't structure their lives around the academic year and school vacations or choose their residence according to the quality of the school district.
However, couples without children say companies â€” including financial services, insurance, charitable groups, restaurants, and travel and leisure companies â€” fail to recognize their spending power. When Julie Revell Benjamin, a 40-year-old technology writer from Duvall, Wash., plans a vacation, she doesn't bother consulting a travel agent. Instead, she seeks recommendations from others like herself: childless couples who balk at the â€œfamily styleâ€? offerings of most hotels. Says Revell Benjamin: â€œWe swap information on hotels that cater to us, and we avoid the ones that don't. We're a huge, untapped market. People think that because we don't have children, we're not buying things. It's just not true. We're buying different things: cruises, vacations, cars. There's a whole profile of child-free couples. We tend to be environmentally motivated, we enjoy the good life, we spend more on entertainment, home remodeling and landscaping, we go out to restaurants more frequently.â€?
Couples such as the Benjamins complain that companies don't consider their preferences when they make sales pitches. â€œI saw an ad for a pregnancy test where the woman is happy to find out she's not pregnant,â€? says Shannon Peterson, a married 27-year-old from Sunnyvale, Calif. â€œThe commercial could have ended there, but of course, she [the actress] has to add, â€˜But I want to get pregnant someday.â€™â€? Peterson, who had a tubal ligation in January, offers another example. â€œOne ad for RagÃº shows this new microwaveable pasta being eaten by kids, and the voice says, â€˜For your family!â€™ I said to my husband, â€˜Why aren't they marketing to me? I work, I'm on the go, I can't cook. I would eat something like that.â€™â€?
Says Karen Smith: â€œAll the investment ads talk about education IRAs and saving for college and trusts for children. But people who don't have kids want to know how to give to charity and how to retire. Magazines always give advice on saving for kids. But what if you don't have kids? How do you structure your savings then? I would like to see just one ad thrown in the mix that addresses our needs.â€?
There are some exceptions. Revell Benjamin responds to ads that show couples without children as â€œcarefree and fun-lovingâ€? rather than â€œscary, mean killjoys.â€? â€œThere was an ad for Impala where a husband is driving and the wife has her head out the window,â€? she recalls. â€œThe tag line was, â€˜Did you hear the one about the couple who test drove the Impala and never came back?â€™â€?
In fact, the Dallas-based restaurant and games/entertainment chain, Dave and Buster's, has built its franchise of 28 outlets nationwide around strict policies meant to deter families with small children. As a result, childless couples cite Dave and Buster's as an attractive venue. â€œOur goal was to cater to adults, and we try to project â€˜adult establishmentâ€™ in our marketing efforts,â€? explains co-founder and co-CEO Dave Corriveau. â€œNormally when you think of games, you think of teens taking over, but we wanted to preserve a place for the over-21 crowd. That's why we have some pretty hard and fast rules about children.â€?
Certain products and services are naturals for childless couples, who can often afford and seek out expensive travel arrangements, spas, exotic locations and adventure destinations that don't easily accommodate children. Childless couples say they avoid traveling during school holidays and take flights early in the morning, when kid travel tends to be light. Instead of heading to Orlando's theme parks, says Childless by Choice founder Karen Smith, couples without kids go on bike and walking tours, ecological vacations, archeological digs and museum tours. Some choose the exit rows in the airplane, from which children are prohibited, and stay at bed-and-breakfasts and hotels geared toward honeymooners or business travelers.
They travel differently and dine differently, and childless couples also spend differently on such big-ticket items as homes, second homes and cars. Many work long hours and are willing to splurge on a nice car for their commute, according to author Elinor Burkett. â€œYou're not going to see many childless people with vans,â€? she says. â€œThey don't need mommy cars.â€? Carrieann Lahain, 32, from Central Islip, N.Y., says many auto commercials turn her off. â€œCouples without children are always shown preparing for parenthood. They're decorating the nursery, trading in the car for a minivan. Just once I'd like to see someone trading in the SUV and buying a Corvette.â€? Maria Bareiss, 29, of New London, Conn., and her husband collect cars. They have their eye on what would be their sixth purchase â€” the environmentally friendly Toyota Prius. â€œEveryone I know who owns a hybrid car doesn't have children,â€? Bareiss says.
Childless couples tend to have not only more discretionary income than larger families, but more time on their hands too. That often means more attention paid to second jobs, hobbies and passions. They also tend to give money to charity and to volunteer. Mitch Greenberg's No Kidding! group in Baltimore has gone skydiving together and is planning a hang-gliding trip this year. â€œMany of us probably wouldn't take that kind of risk if we had kids,â€? Greenberg says.
Madelyn Cain originally wrote The Childless Revolution (Perseus, 2001) to put a face on childless people, who seemed to be overlooked. But after interviewing 125 child-free women, she was surprised how widespread the choice had already become. â€œEven if this isn't a sanctioned option, it's being embraced by more and more people with each generation,â€? Cain says. â€œWomen in their 50s feel an emotional expectation of themselves as mothers. Women in their 40s are split. But women in their 30s feel very little social obligation to meet those expectations even when their families and friends pressure them. Which shows me the choice to remain childless is only getting stronger.â€?
THE CHILDLESS BUDGET
MORE THAN 6 MILLION MARRIED COUPLES BETWEEN THE AGES OF 22 AND 45 HAVE MONEY ALL FOR THEMSELVES.
|PRODUCT CATEGORY||MARRIED COUPLES WITH KIDS (22-45)||MARRIED COUPLES WITH KIDS, SPENDING PER PERSON||CHILDLESS COUPLES (22-45)||CHILDLESS COUPLES, SPENDING PER PERSON|
|Personal insurance & pensions||$5,144||$1,273||$6,007||$3,004|
|Total # of consumer units||22,028,825||6,223,707|
|Average # of earners||1.92||1.81|
|Average HH size||4.04||2.00|
|Average income after taxes*||$56,731||$59,988|
|*Uncorrected data||Source: Third Wave Research Group|
|Methodology: The analysis by Third Wave was created using Consumer Expenditure Survey data from 1999, the most recent data available. In order to look at couples without any children, Third Wave and American Demographics restricted the ages to married people between 22 and 45 years old. This was to avoid grouping in empty-nesters with childless couples. We also controlled the number of people per household to two for childless couples, to ensure that adult children still in the household were included. By doing so, it is important to recognize that the numbers do not include childless couples who have a friend, tenant, parent or other family member residing with them.|
WHY CHILD FREE?
Childless-by-choice couples say their education reflects who they are â€” their interests, personalities and priorities.
Many couples without children prefer to call themselves â€œchild free,â€? since to them â€œchildlessâ€? implies a lack or a loss. â€œChild free,â€? however, connotes emancipation from the time, money, energy and responsibility that parenting requires. Couples without kids say choosing not to have children does not mean they are selfish, immature or unhappy â€” though they often feel American society portrays them that way.
Why choose childlessness? â€œA lot of what's going on has to do with gender and gender role changes,â€? says Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. â€œAs women rise up the corporate ladder and have higher incomes, they realize and decide that they just can't do it all, which is a myth anyway. Or they find out that they don't want to. Also birth control technology is a big factor here. We have the choice.â€? Adds David Foot, economist at the University of Toronto: â€œFemale education is the most important determinant of fertility. The higher education a woman has, the greater likelihood that she won't have children.â€?
Others remain without children for religious or ideological reasons. â€œThey're well-educated and socially aware,â€? says Madelyn Cain, author of The Childless Revolution (Perseus, 2001), who interviewed 125 couples for her book. Cain found a whole group who cite environmental reasons. â€œAt first I thought it was a fluke,â€? she recalls. â€œBut they kept turning up. And they had all spent some time in Third World countries and had witnessed the poverty that comes from overpopulation.â€?
Laura Carroll, who interviewed over 100 child-free couples for her book, Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice (Xlibris, 2000), confirms Cain's findings. Carroll talked to many couples who formed their values in the 1960s and have retained them throughout their lives, and says that such political consciousness extends to younger generations. â€œThere are more young men in their 30s getting vasectomies,â€? Carroll says. â€œThey don't want to bring more children in this world.â€?
But the vast majority of childless couples say they simply don't want kids or don't think they're suited for parenthood. They wouldn't like being mothers, don't think they'd be good fathers or they simply aren't especially inclined toward having children. Many lack the emotional desire.
â€œChildren don't interest me,â€? says Carrieann Lahain, 32, from Central Islip, N.Y. Lahain and her husband, married for six years, decided early on to forgo having children; her husband had a vasectomy when he was 24. â€œI don't have the patience that one needs to put up with a child 24/7. And I'm interested in other things that would be squeezed out by parenting.â€?
GENERATIONS OF CHILDLESSNESS
ALMOST 1 IN 5 BOOMERS OF CHILDBEARING AGE ARE CURRENTLY WITHOUT KIDS
|GENERATIONS IN THEIR CHILDBEARING YEARS||TOTAL WOMEN||PERCENT OF TOTAL CHILDBEARING POPULATION||PERCENT CHILDLESS||TOTAL CHILDLESS|
|Gen Y (15-24 years old)||18,375,000||30%||78%||14,259,075|
|Gen X (25-34 years old)||19,680,000||33%||35%||6,913,931|
|Boomers (35-44 years old)||22,464,000||37%||19%||4,358,968|
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau, June Current Population Survey, 1998|
FORGET THE BABYSITTER
PORTRAIT OF CHILDLESS WOMEN
|WOMEN 15-44 YEARS OLD||IN THOUSANDS|
|Total childless women||25,539,018|
|Currently married*, no children||5,215,296|
|WOMEN 15-44 YEARS OLD||TOTAL CHILDLESS WOMEN||PERCENT OF CHILDLESS WOMEN||PERCENT OF WOMEN OVERALL|
|Not a high school graduate||7,385,168||29%||22%|
|High school graduate||4,997,760||20%||29%|
|Not in labor force||6,718,354||26%||28%|
|Earning under $10,000/yr.||2,038,422||8%||9%|
|Earning over $75,000/yr.||4,620,960||18%||16%|
|*Husband present||Source: American Demographics analysis of 1998 Current Population Survey data|