For most people throughout time, the idea of an ideal future included starting a family. Currently, over one third of American men have no children, prompting the question of why? A study published in Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that this is partially due to an increasing disinterest in fatherhood.
Fertility rates ebb and flow due to many factors, including socioeconomic stability and cultural norms. In recent years, economic uncertainty and a decreasing focus on a traditional family unit seem to have led to the decrease in birth rates, which is of concern to many people due to the fact that America’s birth rate is now below replacement level. Most research on family planning and fertility focus on women, but the new research sought to understand the perspective of childless men.
For his study, Robert Bozick utilized data from 3 sources: the National Survey of Family Growth, the Monitoring the Future study, and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics’ Transition to Adulthood supplement. All data was focused on the years 2000-2020.
Bozick utilized data from 18,183 American men from the National Survey of Family Growth, which included questions about if participants see themselves having children in the future and how much it would bother them if they never had children. The Monitoring the Future study focused on high school seniors and asked them what number children they would have and how likely they were to want children. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics’ transition to adulthood supplement examined men aged 18 to 28. Bozick used data from 6 waves asking about the importance of family leave as an aspect of their jobs for participants.
Results showed that over the past two decades, the interest in having children among childless men has decreased. In fact, the number of men reporting that they do not want children at all doubled during this time frame.
Similarly, men reporting they wouldn’t be bothered if they never had kids doubled. Among high school seniors, the percentage of people who were confident they did not want children remained steady while the percentage of people reporting they were very likely to want kids decreased. Additionally, the number of men reporting that it is very important to them that their job has good parental leave decreased between 2005 and 2015.
This study took important steps into better understanding the trends occurring in regard to fatherhood. Despite this, there are some limitations to note. One such limitation is that this study was only able to track descriptive trends and cannot truly answer why we are seeing these patterns.
“The descriptive trends documented in this brief report clearly show that childless men are increasingly shying away from fatherhood, but the question remains: Why?” Bozick wrote in his study. “Without directly addressing this question, the contemporary research landscape of family formation and family planning is incomplete.”
“On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and a longer-term decline in fertility rates, new questions have emerged regarding what considerations are most relevant to couples making decisions about having children—with an eye toward ensuring that couples have a broad array of options to plan for the families they so desire. Men in general, but childless men in particular, have received little attention in these scholarly conversations about family planning.”
“Should the trends observed here continue, attempts at boosting fertility rates will need to consider what factors are driving this increasing disinterest among childless men,” Bozick wrote. “A logical next step is for family researchers to identify these factors – be they structural, evolutionary, cultural, or biological.”
The study, “An increasing disinterest in fatherhood among childless men in the United States: a brief report“, was published July 30, 2022.