There is a rising trend across the world that people may not be aware of; fewer and fewer women are having children. So who are these women and why aren’t they reproducing? Sushma Sagar explores
Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed the global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017 – and their study, published in the Lancet, projects it will fall below 1.7 by 2100. The decrease in birth rate across the world makes for sobering news, why is it happening? Could it be because of fertility issues, environmental concerns, socio-economic challenges or simply not finding the right partner in time? The subject is complex and fascinating to me, because I too am part of the childless demographic.
On a recent camping trip with my partner, we enjoyed many peaceful evenings sitting next to rivers, sipping wine, whilst food sizzled on a barbecue – it was absolutely glorious. Our motorhome, at times, felt very small and sharing it with any other humans, tiny or otherwise would have been a disaster.As I watched the chaos of other families around us, I couldn’t help feel relievedthat it was just us two on an adults-only holiday and in that moment, I was happy about my life choices.
It wasn’t my plan to avoid motherhood, quite the oppositein fact. I had assumed/hoped, like many, that kids would just happen, but this is not how life played out and only now am I starting to make peace with my fate. This peace has been helped, in part, by Ruby Warrington’s new book “Women Without Kids – The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood.” It’s a brave and inspiring tome which challenges the status quo. Meticulously researched and well written, the book not only explains why this growing and shamed demographic might exist from a historical and political standpoint, but it also, and more crucially I think, presents the existence of these women in a positive, shining light.
I had a captivating discussion with Ruby live on Instagram and when I asked her what her initial motivation was for writing, she explained she had had a difficult relationship with her own mother and was curious to see if this had impacted on her conscious decision not to have children. Whilst exploring her own story, she uncovered a quiet yet determined, mass movement across the planet.
“We are in the midst of an unstoppable, global reproduction slowdown and the birthrate is declining steeply in every single country around the globe. That means that women everywhere are having far fewer children and increasingly having no children at all. I realised that this demographic shift, which will absolutely reshape society, is reflective of just millions and millions of individual women’s very difficult, often very conflicted, decisions about when to have children, who to have children with, how many to have and whether to have them at all. It seemed like this is a huge conversation about our human story that wasn’t being given airtime or the space it really deserves.”
“Women Without Kids” reframes the narrative of the poor, childless woman, to a content, childfree woman with choices. It also offers a new perspective on the reason why society benefits from some of us being child-free.
“I think humanity was probably, in the grand design of the universal order, designed for there to be plenty of spare adults who were not putting all of their time, energy, material resources, into the raising of their own biological children,” Ruby explains.
As soon as you have dependents, as soon as you are a parent, you need people you can depend on because you are no longer going to be able to give yourself the same amount of time and resources that you’re now putting into your children. So, we need spare adults and an overabundance of resource to be put into the people who are doing the caregiving.”
This is an idea that actress and comedian Liz Guterbock also touched on in a recent piece about being “actively childless” penned for the iNewspaper. Liz’s situation was created by the fact that she thought she didn’t want children, but it turns out she just didn’t want them with her previous long-term partner (only realising that in therapy, after the relationship was over.) At 41, therefore, she feels her predicament was not entirely her choice. In coming to terms with this, she was told by her therapist ‘Remember Liz, we need people without children to look after the village.’ One must admit, it does make sense.
Liz wrote “I keep telling myself I’m a cycle breaker, living out the feminist dream my mother, grandmother and great grandmother wished for me. That’s the empowering way to look at it – but there’s still worry about the unknown and very few people to speak to about the worries around not having kids. It’s lonely, and as a woman who is “actively childless.”
I can’t stand the idea of being not only separate from mothers, but from those who are involuntarily childless as well. Women are damaged by societal expectations around childbearing, whether it’s the pressure to “be the perfect mother,” or feeling like something is fundamentally wrong with you because can’t have kids.”
Liz has decided not just to celebrate her status but to use it as creative inspiration and turn it into the theme of her stand-up comedy show that she is taking to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, “Geriatric Millennial.”
“Sometimes the only way to address complex topics like this is to make jokes and do silly voices so other people feel like they can talk about it, too.”
What both Ruby and Liz are doing, in their own ways, is opening up the dialogue and bravely challenging the current narrative from sad to (dare I say it) glad even. Whilst this might be triggering for those who couldn’t have children or those who silently regret their choices, the box is open and, like many taboo subjects, the more we talk about these difficult things, the more we’ll remove the shame so we can reconnect with ourselves and each other, irrespective of our status – the sisterhood singing in harmony.
Women Without Kids – The Revolutionary Rise of an Unsung Sisterhood by Ruby Warrington published by Sounds True 2023.