Apr 21, 2024

Child-free Texans Raise Voices Despite Stigmatized Life Choice

Reporting Texas

The All Saints’ Episcopal Day School playground in Austin sits empty before school. Some Texans are choosing to not have children for a variety of reasons. Katrina L. Spencer/Reporting Texas

Sending a message to his more than 40,000 followers on social media platform X in March, Houstonian Adrian C. Jackson told the world he had made a major life decision.

“Might as well make this a public journey to inform & encourage other men,” he tweeted March 10. “The appointment is booked. I’m going through with it. I’m getting a vasectomy.”

Now 40, earning six figures as a software engineer and child-free, Jackson wanted the rewards of years of practicing safe sex and his relentless socioeconomic climb. The prize was financial freedom minus the cost of raising children.

Jackson wasn’t expecting his doctor’s resistance to his pending and likely permanent medical operation. 

The doctor “really did go out of her way to convince me to not get one,” Jackson said. “She kept insisting – and I would use that word heavily – insisting that I would eventually change my mind.”

Jackson is one of an increasing number of child-free Texans who intend to remain so. 

About 44% of U.S. adults without children say they are either “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to have children, according to a 2021 study from the Pew Research Center. In 2018, only 37% said they were not likely to have children, suggesting a trend on the rise. 

Child-free Texans told Reporting Texas that the rising costs of child care, the desire to focus on themselves and medical risks associated with childbirth as reasons they forgo children. However, their child-free status can pose drawbacks in the forms of isolation, stigma and difficulty when it comes to community building. 

“People give all kinds of reasons” for not having children, said Zachary Neal, a psychology professor at Michigan State University who studies child-free populations. “A 2021 study by Pew asked people why they didn’t plan to have children and the majority, the modal response was, ‘I just don’t want to.’” 

Costs of parenthood

One of the most common threads that comes up when child-free adults discuss their decision is the cost of raising children. 

Morgan Emerson is a 33-year-old child-free woman who lives in Stephenville and works as a cashier at a feed store. “It cost my sister more to physically give birth to my niece than it cost me to get a literal college degree.” 

Worries about affordability abound. 

“I can barely feed myself,” Emerson said.

The estimated costs for outside-the-home care for a single child in Travis County was about $12,400 annually or 11.5% of the median family income in 2023, according to the Women’s Bureau, an agency within the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Nationally, the cost of raising a child to age 17 can exceed $310,000, according to research from the Brookings Institution, a U.S.-based think tank.

Daliyce Creighton, 39, who lives in South Carolina, co-created the podcast “Claiming Zero” with co-host Vanessa Lauren, 34, who lives in Nevada. Creighton has decided she will never have children, and Lauren describes herself as a “fence-sitter” or someone who is undecided about having kids. The podcast highlights threads of child-free discourse 50 times a year and is 150 episodes strong with hundreds of worldwide subscribers. 

“A lot of people think that when you choose to be child-free that you just want to live this wild and careless life. ‘I’m gonna go out and travel the world and spend all my money on myself and do all these lavish things,’ ” Creighton said. “We can barely financially support ourselves sometimes.” 

More time and energy for self

Other child-free Texans expressed concerns about the potential of having children competing with their enjoyment of life. 

Jackson was quick to reveal that his life has been full of “peaks and valleys.” 

“I have yet to enjoy life,” he said. “It’s been work-hustle-struggle, work-hustle-struggle, work-hustle-struggle. At no point, even up to my current age of 40, have I ever just been able to live.”

Stephanie Doll is a 34-year-old project manager who lives in Austin.

Stephanie Doll says she doesn’t plan to have children.

“Having children would significantly impact my current lifestyle, introducing challenges to balancing work, business, education and personal pursuits,” Doll said.

“Parenthood’s responsibilities and concerns are not in line with the life I have built and love,” she added.

The dangers of pregnancy concern some

Susanna Gaither, a 32-year-old in Bastrop who works for a financial services company, got sterilized via bilateral salpingectomy, or the removal of her fallopian tubes at age 30. Gaither cited the cost of raising children and systemic medical risks as her motivation.

“The maternal mortality rate in the United States is too high compared to other countries and the pros do not outweigh the cons,” she said. 

Maternal mortality rates in Texas and the United States have more than doubled from 1999 to 2019, according to the latest data from the American Medical Association. These numbers are even more stark and disproportionate for Indigenous and people of color.

Moreover, 20% of people surveyed reported mistreatment during their maternity care, according to a report from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A life decision comes with challenges

Some child-free Texans are exposed to social barriers as their countercultural decision goes against the grain and can be met with animosity, distrust and even confusion.

“It’s definitely a sort of stigmatized life choice,” Neal said. 

“It’s normative in the United States, and pretty much every country in the world, that people want children. And so someone saying, ‘I don’t want children’ is violating a norm,” he added. “Anytime you run into someone who violates a really dearly held norm, they tend to be greeted with skepticism, suspicion.”

Kara Sweeney is a 28-year-old account manager for an electrical supply company who lives in Houston and is child-free. “You’re not allowed to just prefer not to have children,” she said. “What if I’m a shitty parent? Until it’s game time, you literally have no idea.” 

As with any subculture, child-free Texans are finding their way to one another, and social media is helping. 

Garth Brooks, 34, works for Motorola in Conroe. He founded the Facebook group Texas Child Free By Choice along with his wife. The group has 141 members looking for connection with like-minded people.

Garth Brooks, co-founder of the Facebook group Texas Child Free by Choice.

“I think it’s a challenge for child-free people to find community because they may not necessarily share much in common with other child-free people, apart from simply not wanting children,” Neal said. “It’s difficult to know who else out there in the world is child-free. This is a population that struggles to sort of coalesce into a community.”

Despite the obstacles faced, many child-free Texans stand firm in their decision, and many aren’t worried about potential regrets.

“One of the most common things we hear is that child-free people need to be careful because they’re gonna regret this when they get older,” Neal said. 

Neal conducted a survey of people aged 70 and older about regrets regarding life choices. There were essentially no differences between child-free people and people who had children, he said.

Being child-free “is a perfectly acceptable life course to choose,” Neal said. “Many people do it, and they go on to live happy, fulfilled lives.”