Today’s twenty-somethings have been slower to have children than any previous generation. In fact, data suggests that by 2023 childless couples will be the most common family type, surpassing nuclear families. But what exactly has made this generation press pause, and in many instances, completely forego pregnancy plans in a phenomenon being referred to as ‘the child free movement’.
Sterilisation: A Permanent Solution
Sterilisation, the permanent medical procedure that prevents pregnancy, is rising in popularity with millennials.
There are multiple methods of sterilisation available for both men and women. A vasectomy for men involves cutting the tubes that carry sperm from the testicles to the penis with chances of pregnancy occurring after the procedure reduced to one in 1000. Sterilisation procedures for women, however, block the path of sperm through the fallopian tubes. The most common procedure is that of a tubal litigation, where fallopian tubes are clipped. It is 99 percent effective, and as with a vasectomy is able to be reversed. However, this is not always successful.
Similarly, a tubal occlusion or hysterectomy can also be performed – both of which are permanent. A tubal occlusion involves putting a micro-insert into the fallopian tube while a hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus. Yet millennials who are certain they do not want children of their own can find it increasingly challenging to find a doctor to perform these procedures.
Doctor Knows Best
Dr. Michael Gannon, President of the Australian Medical Association and specialist in pregnancy and childbirth, attributes this hesitation to a conflict of interest. Stating that doctors normally work in partnership with their patients and act in accordance with their autonomy and wishes. However, sometimes doctors can’t help but transmit the way they feel on difficult social and ethical issues. But that is not the way it should be. As journalist Holly Brockwell reasons, a lot more thought goes into the decision to not have children than many people put into their decision to have them.
Sexual and reproductive health expert, Dr. Emma Boulton also shared that doctors tend to prefer to prescribe long-term, reversible birth control; arguing that it is the concept of permanence that is the roadblock for doctors. “What we’re wanting to do is not jeopardise that person’s ability to fulfill that person’s reproductive desires later in life […] we’re doing it in their best interests, so if we decline to give them a vasectomy it’s because we don’t think that it’s in their best interests to do so at the time.”
A Case For Ethics
Lecturer in medical ethics and law, Piers Benn, and consultant in obstetrics and gynecology, Martin Lupton, have written an ethical case study on this exact topic. They argue that the sterilisation of someone in their early twenties seems much more contentious than sterilisation of someone who is 40. However, it is strange to raise ethical concerns about this as young people are allowed (and oftentimes encouraged) to take all manner of risks they might later regret. Think: that person you met in a dive bar, getting drunk every weekend, or spending $150 on said weekend instead of paying your rent. They further give the example that if a patient at the age of 26 can lawfully damage her health by, for instance, drinking a bottle of whisky every day, it might be reasonable to ask what is so special about voluntary sterilisation.
Changing Social Trends and Selfish Millennials
Throughout civilization there has been three social realities driving the birth of children: a lack of contraception, the economic necessity for children to care for parents in old age, and religion. For many millennials changing financial and social realities are important factors in the choice to have kids; with contraception in abundance, welfare programs to aid the elderly, and religion increasingly taking a backseat.
As Nicolas DiDomizio points out, however, the child-free movement is an incredibly interesting trend. Particularly as there has been a long-standing taboo associated with people (read: women) choosing to opt out of parenthood. Women who choose not to have kids have been referred to as selfish, shallow and self-absorbed. Just check out these delightful comments concerning former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her child-free lifestyle.
Let’s face it. Children are not the most financially feasible of assets, particularly due to that whole lifetime commitment clause. Couple that with the fact that millennials are the most educated, and worst paid, generation and you can start to see the problem. Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of ditching the smashed avocado at brunch – if you are barely able to provide for yourself, how can you justify adding another (financially draining) person to that equation?
A lot of millennials are also making the case for an already overpopulated world; with a population growth that has been so rapid experts are unable to predict whether such a large population is sustainable. Adoption is also a popular option for millennials who take issue with the fact that there are already 40,000 children in Australia who have no permanent home – 95.5 percent of whom will remain in the system.
Millennials are also reinforcing their selfish and narcissistic reputation by focusing on none other than their life and career goals. Shock horror! As such, they are less willing to put their lives on hold to raise children. 23-year-old Karim Eldib, interviewed by the ABC, put it perfectly stating, “I’m in a relationship and there has been talk of that [children] but it’s not something that we’re seriously considering – it’s something we’d like to consider after we’ve done all the things we want to do” – a sentiment that has been echoed around the globe.
There are also considerable statistics that suggest having a family might make it more difficult for women to get ahead in their careers. There is even a notable success sequence that millennials are following to financial prosperity: obtain a high school degree, work full time, get married, and have children – in that order. Even when career goals are able to factor in raising a child, there is also a strong desire to preserve already fulfilling lifestyles. Including travelling, going out with friends, sustaining hobbies, and being able to change and make plans at a moments notice.
Rise of the Fur Baby
Young adults are also increasingly substituting bottles and diapers for leashes and pooper-scoopers; with a considerable decline of babies born to women between the ages of 15 and 29 that is being matched by an increase in ownership of small dogs among millennial women. In fact, birth rates in the US have fallen by ten percent in just five years. That’s around 400,000 fewer children born each year in America alone; while the population of small dogs has more than doubled.
The fact is, animals are part of the family, and more and more they are like our children. Senior editor at Charlotte Magazine, Kristen Wile, penned her journey from wanting to be a stay-at-home mom by the time she was 30 to now choosing pets over babies, saying, “they give us a greater purpose without making our lives mainly about theirs.”
Whether millennials give birth or adopt, are fertile or sterile, want children or simply do not. Should there be a better reason than that? After all, sterilisation may be permanent, but so is having a child.