Is childlessness the norm for millennials?

Dear readers:

In response to my request for ideas for the blog, I got this response from Crystal:

I would really like to see a post about childlessness being the defacto relationship situation for millennials. It says in the title in your blog “parenting is expected.” Well, for me and my experience, I would disagree with that statement. My family told me to wait to get married until 25, and I was expected to go to college and find a career path. I was asked at an early age, what do you want to be when you grow up? Not, how many children would you like to have?

When I got married my husband was still in school racking up an $80,000 student loan debt. He graduated and had every opportunity that he needed to have a career and have enough income to afford a comfortable lifestyle and be able to pay his student loans. Nevertheless, he used the student loans as an excuse to “wait” before having kids. I asked how long, and never got a straight answer. This is a huge topic in other blogs and forums I visit. Millennials can’t afford to have kids in many instances. They are waiting longer to have kids, or just not having them. Real estate debt, student loans, credit card debt, are putting stress on the family. And the kicker is this…no one seems to care. I was never asked about when I was going to have kids. My parents never pressured me to have kids. I even went to my friends who are the same age as me and tried to talk about it, and they were like it’s so hard to have kids, you know, but it’s OK for us to because we have relatives in town to help us. I was like wtf?

As I read Crystal’s comment, light bulbs lit up in my head. I am not a millennial, far from it. I grew up in the “Leave It to Beaver” era when all women were expected to become moms wearing aprons and baking cookies–or that was the illusion we were given to believe. Things have changed tremendously.

I had to look up the dates that define millennials. There are different definitions, but the most common is folks born between 1982 and 2002. They’re between 18 and 36 years old now. The older millennials are edging toward the end of their fertility.

I see exactly what Crystal is talking about in my friends’ children and the younger members of my family. They are marrying much later than we did and putting off having children for years if not forever. In the San Francisco Bay Area where I come from, nobody with an ordinary job can afford to buy a house. Rents are two or three times what I’m paying for my four-bedroom house in Oregon. Everything is ridiculously expensive. And student loans can dog a person forever. When you’re already struggling to get from one pay period to the next, how can anyone think about having children?

There is tremendous pressure for both men and women to get their education and establish their careers before starting their families, by which time it might be too late. Back in that different world where I grew up, the priorities were reversed for women. We were supposed to get married and have children. Whatever else we did was extra.

I’m not a millennial or even Gen-X. But I know that many of you readers do fall into those age groups. So let’s talk about it. Enlighten me. Where are you in the work-education-money-babies conundrum? What are the biggest challenges for your age group? Where do you see this heading?

I look forward to your comments.


Read about it:

“Why are Millennials Putting Off Marriage? Let Me Count the Ways” by Gabriela Barkho, Washington Post, June 6, 2016

“Nine Ways Millennials are Approaching Marriage Differently from their Parents” by Shana Lebowitz, Business Insider, Nov. 19, 2017

“Young Americans are Killing Marriage” by Ben Steverman, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017





10 thoughts on “Is childlessness the norm for millennials?

  1. This is so interesting, I never thought about it that way. I am an older millenial (35 this year) and so much of this resonated with me. Although health issues are the primary reason for my childlessness now, I know part of it is also because parenthood wasn’t on the radar for a long time as I built my career, paid off student loans and bought a house big enough to have a family in. Now I am unable to work, the house feels way too big for just two and the mortgage payments are massive for just one wage when we budgeted for my income, too. I have lost so much in my life due to illness, but not having children is the hardest to deal with. I never thought about it as a generational thing and I don’t regret the years I spent focusing on my career, but I can’t help but feel it’s come at a great cost. Thanks for sharing this perspective, I don’t have any answers to your questions, but I am interested to hear more on this topic.


    • Hi MigraineFree,

      I’m the original poster. I just wanted to say something because I am the same age as you. I liked how you described yourself as not making kids a priority while you focused on your career and then bought a house, presumably, the house you could raise a family in, and then it didn’t work out. I just wanted to say that I was the opposite. Parenthood was always on my radar. I had a job, got married, and wanted kids right away, and we were totally “ready.” I don’t believe in having to have a house to have a baby. Anyways, I did “everything right” and still nothing, even though no health problems, isn’t that crazy?


  2. Hi, also an older millennial. For my generation and background (educated professionals), about half my graduating class haven’t started families. For those of us who do want kids, it’s a stressful race to fit it in that 30-35 window along with paying off your student loan, trying to buy a house, meet the one whilst establishing career.

    I was one of the lucky ones. We have one child, but childcare takes half my salary and I doubt we can afford a second child

    Have several friends going through ivf and have been reading this blog so I can support them


      • I guess each generation has its challenges. Certainly I have more opportunities then my mother (for whom it was children or career, never both) but also more things we have to succeed at –expected to build a career and be a good mum simultaneously.

        Thank you for your blog btw. It’s always an informative read


  3. I’m a Gen Xer, born 1978, and there are some similarities. Growing up, getting married and having kids wasn’t stressed as much as getting an education and “being something.” But then around our late 20s to early 30s there seemed to be a sudden switch. For most of us, we got the degrees as we were told, then the jobs, but as it turned out the jobs were unsatisfying and going nowhere. Suddenly the message was “hurry up and get married and have kids before it’s too late” and everyone scrambled to get that done in that five-year window. A lot of us weren’t able to. Of the six girls I lived with in college, only two had children. One of them had to pretend it was an accident to her boyfriend to make it happen. One (me), married someone who refused to have children and couldn’t bring myself to do the same as she did, another divorced after a short marriage, another never got married at all, and the other married what turned out to be too late and couldn’t get pregnant, I suspect. We’re not in touch, so I’m not 100% sure on the reason, but kids never came even though she had planned on them. We were supposed to be the ones to “have it all,” successful career and a family. What a joke that turned out to be.
    Money is an issue too. A lot of us could still get good jobs out of college in 2000, but many were laid off between 2004 and 2008. Most of my friends were never able to afford houses. I managed to buy a townhouse but it lost a lot of value when the housing bubble burst, so upgrading a regular house with a yard, the kind you would imagine raising kids in, would be difficult if not impossible. I’d probably go into debt if I tried it. Because I don’t have kids, I should (hopefully) be able to retire someday. Those in my cohort who do have families probably will never be able to, which is another issue and reason younger people are opting out of having kids.


  4. I read that and I was reminded of how different things can be community to community. In my province, the average age of first time parents remains 23 for women, and as of last year our national average age for having children is still in your mid-twenties. One in three millennials is experiencing a return to ‘tradition,” but are finding it in more relation to PRE war and depression era children as opposed to gen x, boomers or post war. There are also three different groups of millennials- 82-90, 91-95, and 96-02. Those 82-90 were still parented by boomers but were influenced by Gen X. The second group (mine) were the first group born typically to Gen Xers, and referred to as Gen Y at one point–the children most influenced by y2k and the market crash, and return to publically acknowledged ethnocide and genocides. We also, as a generation, have the highest rates of infertility–non optional ability to conceive naturally. This is hugely influenced by chemical and hormone misuse in our parenting and grandparenting generations. I am 27 and celebrate my five-year anniversary with my husband this summer. We struggled with infertility for several years before temporarily giving up. We are looked at like we are freaks for not conceiving before now.


  5. I’m 35, male, Hispanic and childless. For one, getting a girlfriend is close to impossible given that women simply find rich white jerks the most attractive prospects… and second, every day I wake up fearing I won’t make it through the day at work and get fired before 5 o’clock.


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