In order for the human race or any species of animal to survive, offspring must be produced. This might be arranged by making males very eager to have sex, and females willing enough, or defenseless enough, so copulation occurs sufficiently. Children will naturally result, regardless of whether they are wanted.
But suppose advancing contraceptive technology severs the connection between sex and conception, so people can satisfy their sexual urges without producing children. To the extent parenthood, or the lack of it, is determined by planning, prospective parents will weigh the pros and cons of having children. They may have learned while growing up, based on observation of their own or other families, that children are a source of great inconvenience, trouble, and expense. They may read of unhappiness caused by having children, as in the following report by New York Times columnist David Brooks:
- "On average, people who have a child suffer a loss of reported well-being. They’re more exhausted and report lower life satisfaction."
- - David Brooks, The Big Decisions, New York Times, Aug. 25, 2015
Weighing the costs and benefits, they may conclude it is disadvantageous to have children, and thus decide not to have them.
- from It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner, by Ariana Eunjung Cha, Washington Post, Aug. 11, 2015
Author and academic Zha Jianying, in China's Sexual Revolution Documentary (2015), says:
- "There are women who don't get married because they think, you know, why bother to have the hassle, right, and the kids, you know, slow you down, or you know, ah you know bring down your your [sic] quality of life. They like to travel and be free. And they're not viewed as these pitiful, undesirable women, who you know don't have the choice anyway to marry. They actually are successful women, who don't want to bother."
- - China's Sexual Revolution Documentary, written and directed by Miro Cernetig and Josh Freed, on Extraordinary People Discovery & Documentary HD Channel (quote starts at 25:56) (viewed on Sept. 9, 2015)
In a 2016 New York Times Op-Ed, Judith Shulevitz rejects the notion that motherhood is an activity women can reasonably be expected to voluntarily undertake because of its inherently rewarding nature, like a hobby or form of recreation. Far from mothers being "glorified hobbyists... getting a free ride on everyone else's labor," she says,
- "I’d argue that this view of motherhood gets it exactly backward. Actually, it’s society that’s getting a free ride on women’s unrewarded contributions to the perpetuation of the human race."
- - Judith Shulevitz, It’s Payback Time for Women, NYT, Jan. 8, 2016
Thus she considers it wrong to expect women to bear and raise children without payment for their sacrifice. Given the long history of motherhood without pay, Shulevitz continues, "I say it's time for something like reparations."
Though it is said women who have abortions often feel bad about what they've done, it appears most do not:
- "Despite the concern for what the pope calls an “agonizing and painful decision,” research shows that a vast majority of women who terminate pregnancies in the United States don’t actually feel bad about it. In surveys, nearly all say it was the right thing to do, and positive feelings of relief or happiness outweigh negative feelings of regret or guilt for more than nine in 10 women, even years after the procedure."
- - Jill Filipovic, The Pope’s Unforgiving Message of Forgiveness on Abortion, New York Times, Sept. 10, 2015
Choosing not to have children could lead to extinction of the species, or at least of those members of it who believe in planned parenthood and think that having children is not in their interest. Those with an irrational conviction that contraception is immoral, and those who are too poor afford contraception or too disorganized to employ it effectively, may continue to proliferate.
The threat posed by lack of enthusiasm for having children was sufficiently apparent in ancient Rome that in 9 AD, the Lex Papia Poppaea was introduced to encourage the Roman upper classes to produce more offspring. James Field writes that
- "the so-called lex Iulia et Papia Poppaea... was... framed with the object of preserving and perpetuating the back-bone of the Augustan state, the senatorial and the equestrian orders. These classes, on whose shoulders rested the burden of civil and military administration of the vast empire... were failing to reproduce in anything like adequate numbers."
- - James A. Field, Jr., The Purpose of the Lex Iulia et Papia Poppaea, The Classical Journal, Vol. 40, No. 7 (Apr., 1945), pp. 398-416
In Encyclopaedia Romana, with reference to the same laws, the Julian laws of 18/17 BC and the Lex Papia Poppaea of 9 AD, James Grout says that
- "Augustus sought to promote marriage and encourage procreation by legislation..."
- - James Grout, Lead Poisoning and Rome
However, as Grout notes, Tacitus reported that this legislative encouragement of child-bearing was unsuccessful:
- And yet, marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state.
- - Tacitus, The Annals, Book III (109 AD)
- Nevertheless, despite an unbroken chain of people choosing to have children, albeit for different reasons, we are now living at a time when fewer and fewer women are making that choice. The most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the fertility rate for American women ages fifteen to forty-four was 62.9 per thousand in 2014, the lowest ever recorded. In 1950 it was 106.2 per thousand, 70 percent higher. Moreover, according to Sophie Gilbert in her review in The Atlantic of a book edited by Meghan Daum, titled Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed (2015), which contains essays by writers who chose not to have children, 25 percent of women with college degrees never have children. Despite the new focus of celebrity magazines on celebrity babies, more young people seem to be finding sufficiently close and sustaining relationships with one another to forgo parenthood.
- - Marcia Angell, Why Be a Parent?, NY Review of Books, Nov. 10, 2016
- For years, local officials in South Korea, which has one of the world’s lowest birthrates, have tried ever more inventive plans to encourage women to have babies. ...
- A low birthrate is one of South Korea’s most urgent socio-economic challenges. Amid rising costs of living and education, women are increasingly moving into the job market, but they often find it all but impossible to keep their careers and raise children. ...
- At home, looking after a child is still largely considered a woman’s job even when she works outside the home. So with such pressures at work and at home, many women choose to remain single or marry late and have only one child, or none.
- South Korea’s fertility rate, as high as six babies per woman in 1960, plunged to around 1.2 per woman in recent years, well below the “replacement level” of 2.1 children, a rate that allows a society to maintain its population without migration.
- Some local doomsayers predict that South Korea will become “extinct” in several centuries if it maintains its current birthrate.
- - Choe Sang-Hun, South Korea’s Plan to Rank Towns by Fertility Rate Backfires, NYT, Dec. 30, 2016
- Stephanie, 15, ... has a 1-month-old daughter and says she did not know that sex could result in pregnancy.
- She has learned the hard way and says she will get an intrauterine device from Likhaan, which distributes free birth control using private funds and cooperation from the Health Department, as soon as she heals from the birth.
- “I don’t want any more children,” she said. “It hurts too much.”
- - AURORA ALMENDRAL, Duterte’s Free Birth-Control Order Is Latest Skirmish With Catholic Church, NYT, JAN. 27, 2017
- America’s fertility is in precipitous decline. ...
- The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reflecting births as of the year ending in September 2017, shows the total fertility rate at 1.77 lifetime births per woman, down 3.8 percent since 2015, and down 16.4 percent since its most recent peak at 2.12 in 2007. (The replacement rate in developed countries is around 2.1.) ...
- Data from the General Social Survey shows that the share of people 18 to 30 who have not had sex in the past year has risen to nearly 20 percent today, from about 10 percent between 1990 and 2010, while the share having sex at least two times a month has fallen to about 65 percent, from about 75 percent from 1990 to 2010.
- Diminished face-to-face interaction, and possibly increased use of pornography, may explain the fall in sex, and both of those trends may be explained by the rise in cellphone usage and other screen time.
- Smartphone ownership rates have more than doubled for every age group in America since 2010, meaning that almost all of us now carry a get-out-of-human-interaction-free card in our pockets 24/7.
- - Lyman Stone, American Women Are Having Fewer Children Than They’d Like, NYT, Feb. 13, 2018
- The vast majority of women in the United States still have children. But the most commonly used measure of fertility, the number of births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, was 60.2 last year, a record low. The total fertility rate — which estimates how many children women will have based on current patterns — is down to 1.8, below the replacement level in developed countries of 2.1.
- The United States seems to have almost caught up with most of the rest of the industrialized world’s low fertility rates. ...
- In the Morning Consult and Times survey, more than half of the 1,858 respondents — a nationally representative sample of men and women ages 20 to 45 — said they planned to have fewer children than their parents. About half were already parents. Of those who weren’t, 42 percent said they wanted children, 24 percent said they did not and 34 percent said they weren’t sure.
- One of the biggest factors was personal: having no desire for children and wanting more leisure time, a pattern that has also shown up in social science research.
- - Claire Cain Miller, Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why., NYT, July 5, 2018