Climate change can influence people’s decisions about whether to have children

When deciding to have children, many factors must be taken into account: finances, support systems, personal values. For an increasing number of people, climate change is also added to the list of considerations, says a researcher at the University of Arizona.

Sabrina Helm, associate professor in the Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the lead author of a new peer-reviewed study that examines how climate change affects people’s decisions about opportunity to have children.

For many people, the question of whether or not to have children is one of the most important they will face in their lives. If you are worried about what the future will look like because of climate change, it will obviously have an impact on how you view this very important decision in your life. “

Sabrina Helm, Associate Professor, Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Helm and his collaborators wanted to better understand the specific reasons related to climate change why people do not want to have children. They began by analyzing online comments posted in response to news articles written about the growing tendency of people to forgo childbearing due to concerns about climate change.

They then looked for adults between the ages of 18 and 35 who said climate change plays an important role in their reproductive decision-making. They interviewed 24 participants about their concerns.

The researchers’ results, published in the journal Population and environment, identify three major themes that emerged both in the online comments and in the interviews.

1) Overconsumption. This was the concern most frequently expressed by those interviewed, Helm said. Almost all of the participants expressed concern about how children would contribute to climate change through an increased carbon footprint and overuse of resources that may become more scarce in the future, such as food and water.

2) Overpopulation. Overcrowding was the dominant concern among online commentators, and it was brought up often in interviews as well, Helm said. Some participants said they thought having more than two children would be problematic and even selfish, as they would “replace” themselves and their partner. Some said they saw adoption as a more responsible choice. “Adoption was seen as the low carbon alternative,” Helm said.

3) An uncertain future. Interviewees and online commentators also often expressed a sense of unhappiness about the future if climate change continues unchecked. Many said they would feel guilty or as if they were doing something morally or ethically wrong if they brought a child into a world with such an uncertain future.

As the prospect of “doom” prevailed, it was also offset by expressions of hope, Helm said. Some interviewees and commentators said that the very idea of ​​children gives hope for a better and brighter future. Others expressed hope that future generations could help improve the environment by increasing awareness and action on climate change.

“There was hope that future generations will get the job done and make things better,” Helm said. “But that puts a lot of burden on little children.”

Understanding how climate change affects reproductive decision-making is part of a larger effort by Helm and other researchers to understand how climate change affects individuals mentally and emotionally in general. Helm noted that anxiety about climate change is on the rise, especially among young people.

“Many people today are seriously affected in terms of mental health when it comes to climate change issues,” she said. “Then you add this very important decision about having children, which very few people take lightly, and it’s an important topic from a public health perspective. . “

Helm said many study participants expressed anger and frustration that their concerns are not taken seriously by family members and friends, who might disdainfully tell them that they will change. opinions on having children when they are older or meeting the right person.

“It’s still a little taboo to talk about this – their worry – in an environment where there are still people who deny climate change,” Helm said. “I think what was missing was the ability to talk about it and hear the voices of others. Maybe this research will help.”


Journal reference:

Helm, S., et al. (2021) No future, no children – no children, no future ?. Population and environment.

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