An internet search on global births reveals close to 1 billion articles about declining fertility rates. Why are young people so apprehensive about becoming parents?
Millennials and Gen-Z have borne the brunt of criticism for delaying many of their major life milestones, but no subject is as closely studied as their decision about when to start a family.
It’s a known fact that birth rates have been declining for years, but compared to our Boomer parents, we live in a time where having children feels like more of an option than an obligation.
A YouGov poll from 2020 revealed that at least one in eight Gen-Z members in the UK say they are uninterested by the prospect of having children, but why?
Plenty of researchers have dug for answers in the last year – so let’s explore them.
Considering the planet
There are a multitude of reasons for opting out of parenthood, and most could be viewed as inherently self-interested, but citing environmental preservation is not one of them.
For many, the most obvious way to curtail our current climate crisis, reduce food and water scarcity, and slow overpopulation is for the next child-rearing generation to have fewer (or none) of them.
While massive oil and coal companies halting their endeavours would have a more immediate effect, feelings of guilt and helplessness in the face of these conglomerates have young people looking to the next possible solution – having less people to use those resources.
Early this year, US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez asked her Instagram Live audience if it’s ‘OK to have children’ when environmental science indicates ‘[their lives] are going to be very difficult.’
Even though her statement was viewed as controversial, it echoed the sentiments of climate conscious Gen-Z and Millennials, who have experienced fighting for their right to a safer, cooler, and less polluted home planet first-hand.
It should come as no surprise then, that young people on TikTok, Twitter, and Reddit are asking: why bring anyone – especially a child who you’d love so dearly – into a world where they’ll face those same environmental burdens, possibly tenfold?
Clearly, the state of the Earth has gotten to a point where people are going against their ‘biological instincts’ to reproduce in order to help it recover which, while harrowing, is not unjustified.
“people aren’t having babies anymore 🥺🥺🥺”
ok do something so the climate crisis doesn’t become irreversible in 7 years and we won’t feel like we’d just be bringing children into an apocalypse joseph
Other than signing off on a mortgage, having children is one of the most expensive financial ventures a person can commit to in their lifetime.
In 2021, a life insurance company in the UK reported that the average cost of raising a child to the age of eighteen is now £71,611 for a couple. That figure raises to a staggering £97,862 for a single parent or guardian.
Bear in mind, these figures don’t include the cost of housing, childcare, or council tax – I’ll wait anxiously while somebody does the math for the average Londoner.
Truthfully, some Gen-Z’ers are too young to be scarred by the economic crash of 2008, however their awareness of financial insecurity has been heightened by other causes.
For example, Gen-Z and Millennials have thousands of pounds more debt than the UK average thanks to student loans, housing costs, and personal spending – a category of debt worsened by the temptation of pay-later schemes like Clearpay and Klarna.
They’ve also seen how easily jobs can be lost because of random events like the pandemic, with 11.5 million people relying on the UK’s furlough schemes since it began.
Those factors considered, it’s also apparent that some Gen-Z’s simply want to spend their hard earnings on themselves. A seventeen-year-old interviewee told Huck Mag, ‘[children] are just an unnecessary stress and financial burden that can be avoided so easily.’
Getting realistic about the cost of caring for a child has young adults questioning whether they’d ever be truly financially secure enough to raise a child ‘without working for ever’.
Across all generations in London, five percent told online pension providers that they would skip out on having children if they could retire five years sooner.
By contrast, not a single respondent in Northern parts of England said they would opt out of having children for an earlier retirement. It’s clear, money matters.
To baby or not to baby?
There’s no cause for panic just yet. According to the pre-pandemic survey conducted by YouGov, just under half of young adults still want to become parents.
Sure, the pandemic may have caused people in their child-rearing years to delay or reconsider their plans for babies – but a look at historical events like war and other pandemics suggests that dipping birth rates aren’t set in stone.
In places where COVID rates are slowing, markets are bouncing back to normal levels, the promise of a more secure financial future for those entering the job market could see another generation of Boomers.
But for Gen-Z and Millennials who find the future too unstable to bring another human being into it – it’s difficult to argue with the practical breakdown of their reasons why.
I’m Jessica (She/Her), a writer at Thred. I moved to London to complete a master’s degree in Media and Communications after spending two years working in fashion PR in Amsterdam. Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and drop me some ideas/feedback via email.
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