The Mystery of Millennial Childlessness: Exploring the Decline in Birthrates

A comprehensive analysis reveals the reasons behind the low birthrate among millennials and the rise of only children.

The birthrate in the United States is currently at its lowest level in history, prompting concerns about the future of population growth. In an effort to understand this phenomenon, researchers have turned their attention to millennials, the generation known for its unique attitudes and behaviors. One particular area of interest is the decline in birthrates among millennials and the rise of only children. This article delves into the reasons behind these trends, shedding light on the complex factors influencing millennials’ decision to have children or not.


The Rise of Only Children

The Census Bureau’s data from 2022 reveals that the rate of producing only children has remained stagnant since the mid-1980s. Approximately 1 in 5 American women aged 25 to 44 are choosing to have only one child, despite the overall decline in birthrates. This has led researchers to question why families with three or more children have decreased while the number of only children has remained steady. It appears that the decision to have one child is a deliberate choice for a minority of parents, driven by biological, philosophical, or logistical reasons.

The Ideal Family Size

Gallup’s poll conducted this summer found that only 3 percent of Americans consider one child to be the ideal family size. Even among parents who currently have one child, only 6 percent view it as the perfect number. The majority of respondents believe that two (44 percent) or three (29 percent) children would be the ideal family size. Interestingly, parents who have the number of children they consider ideal are more satisfied, while those with fewer children often desire more, and those with four or more children often believe their ideal family size is smaller.

The Myths and Realities of Only Children

Psychologist Toni Falbo, who has studied only children since the 1970s, debunks the stereotypes associated with them. Contrary to popular belief, only children are not more selfish or lonelier than their peers. In fact, they often have a strong sense of independence and adaptability. While some studies suggest that only children may have a higher likelihood of divorce or higher body mass indexes in adolescence, the evidence for social struggles is inconclusive, particularly after kindergarten.

The Shift Towards Childlessness

The decision to have no children at all has become increasingly common among millennials. Factors such as youth, marriage, and higher education play a significant role in this trend. Data shows that childlessness among younger women, especially those in their 20s, has been on the rise since the early 2000s, coinciding with the entry of the first millennials into that age group. As millennials age, the proportion of childless individuals continues to increase. Economic factors, including the Great Recession, student debt, gig employment, and high housing costs, have created significant obstacles for millennials in starting families.

Delayed Parenthood and Changing Attitudes

Affordable long-acting birth control options have allowed women to delay pregnancy and have more control over their reproductive choices. Sociologist Sarah Hayford suggests that the increase in childlessness among millennials may be more related to delayed parenthood rather than permanent childlessness. Many women in their thirties may still go on to have children. However, the rise in childlessness among older millennials in their 40s may indicate that time is running out for some individuals to start a family.

Performance Anxiety and Diminishing Expectations

Millennials, as the first generation not expected to surpass their parents in terms of economic success, face intense pressure to provide the best possible future for their children. With weak governmental and social support systems, the decision to have children becomes a daunting prospect. Sociologist Karen Benjamin Guzzo suggests that the fear of not meeting societal expectations and the high stakes involved in parenting contribute to millennials’ hesitation to have children.


The decline in birthrates among millennials and the rise of only children can be attributed to a combination of factors. Economic challenges, delayed parenthood, changing attitudes towards family size, and performance anxiety all play a role in shaping millennials’ decisions about having children. While the data suggests that many millennials may still have children in the future, the current trends highlight the need for societal support and a reevaluation of societal expectations around parenting. As the world continues to evolve, understanding the complexities of millennial childlessness is crucial for policymakers, researchers, and individuals alike.