Choosing not to have children because of climate change

20 May 2021 | Research News

New research finds that people may be deciding against having children because they do not want to contribute to climate change.

A research paper entitled ‘No future, no kids – no kids, no future? An exploration of motivations to remain childfree in times of climate change’, was co-authored by Lincoln University’s Samantha White, Dr Joya A Kemper from the University of Auckland, and the University of Arizona’s Dr Sabrina Helm.

They conducted two studies, with the first focusing on analysing article comment sections that discussed going childfree in response to climate change, and the second involving semi-structured interviews with people between 19 and 35 in New Zealand and the US.

“I would say the majority of the interview participants at least said they were not going to have kids, or they were going to look at adoption instead,” Dr White said.

“Some people were going to limit how many they were going to have but still felt guilty about potentially bringing them into a world that is ‘doomed’.

We found that many young people in our study were experiencing anxiety about what the future would look like as a result of climate change, which led them to questioning whether having kids or not was the right thing to do.

She said the concerns about having children were two-fold.

“Having children was recognised as contributing to climate change through increased emissions and consumption of resources, further exacerbating resource scarcity and environmental degradation. Participants also expressed guilt from potentially subjecting their children and future generations to a world vastly different to the one they have enjoyed themselves.”

The results had wider implications.

“From our own research, and other studies, it is evident that many people are experiencing severe impacts on their mental health as a result of climate change concerns.”

She said the fact that people were now considering climate change in their decisions about whether or not to have children made it clear that climate change had much broader effects “beyond just changes in weather and the environment”.

“It is clear that many young people in our study are frustrated and resentful at having to consider foregoing having children, largely due to perceived government inaction and lack of systemic change in relation to climate issues.”

She added that greater action was needed, not only to mitigate further contributions to climate change, but also to address the already realised impacts, including those on public mental health.


Image: Lincoln University Department of Agribusiness and Markets Lecturer, Samantha White.