correction

A previous version of this article inaccurately stated the age range represented in the Pew Research Center survey findings. The survey involved men and women between the ages of 18 and 49.

More U.S. adults who do not already have children are saying they are unlikely to ever have them, according to a new Pew Research Center survey — findings that could draw renewed attention to the risks of declining birthrates for industrialized nations.

Experts are concerned that the U.S. birthrate, which has declined for the sixth straight year, may not fuel enough population growth on its own to keep the future economy afloat and fund social programs.

Women between the ages of 18 and 49 and men between 18 and 59 who said they are not parents were asked the question, “Thinking about the future, how likely is it that you will have children someday?”

In October, 26 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 49 said it was “very likely,” a six-point drop from 2018, when 32 percent answered “very likely.” Meanwhile, the share of those respondents who answered “not too likely” in 2021 grew to 21 percent, compared to 16 percent in 2018.

When asked for a reason, 56 percent of childless adults under 50 who said it is not at all or not too likely they will ever have children replied that they just don’t want them. That marked a change from 2018, when 63 percent of childless adults in these categories said it was because they had no desire for children.

This time around, 43 percent cited other reasons, including medical issues, economic or financial reasons and lack of a partner.

When the pandemic led to a lack of child care, single mothers like Denise Tyree were left in the lurch, unable to work. (Hadley Green/The Washington Post)

Coupled with the recent release of federal demographic data, this poll points to a long-term evolution in parenthood trends in the United States. The spiraling costs of child care, health care and education — along with global instability, including the coronavirus pandemic and climate change — could all be contributing to a broader change in attitudes to marriage and priorities in life.

In April, the Census Bureau reported that in the last decade the U.S. population grew at the second-slowest rate for any 10-year period since the nation’s founding.

Pew surveyed 3,866 parents and non-parents online in late October as part of a broader study, known as the American Trends Panel survey, of nearly 10,000 U.S. adults. Those who said they have no children were asked to rate their desire to have them in the future, while adults who said they already have children were asked to rate their likelihood of having more. The same questions were asked in a similar poll Pew conducted in late July to early August 2018, enabling a comparison of trends over time.

There was no difference based on gender in the responses among parents and non-parents; according to Pew, “men and women are equally likely to say they will probably not have kids (or more kids) in the future.” There was a difference based on age, however, with adults in their 40s far more likely than younger adults to say they are unlikely to have any or any more children in the future.

The Biden administration has attempted to tackle some of the roadblocks to higher fertility through its roughly $2 trillion Build Back Better bill, which recently passed the House and is now moving to the Senate. The bill includes funding for universal prekindergarten as well as the first national paid family and medical leave program.

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