Ethical Implications of Remaining Childless By Choice

I would like to start off by saying that I am 25 years old, childless, and plan on remaining childless, although I also freely grant that my feelings on the matter could change.

I’ve heard from childless-by-choice people, sometimes on this board, that when they explain their lifestyle decisions to folks with kids, they are sometimes accused of being “selfish.” Upon first glance, I found the idea that deliberate childlessness is selfish to be ridiculous. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and I think of selfish acts as the type which cause others misfortune for personal gain.

However, probing a bit deeper into the issue, it seems like there are more complex ethical ramifications. My decision to not have children is simply because I don’t want that level of responsibility, and would like to spend the time and disposable income that I would save on things I want. My argument applies to people whose reasons for childlessness are similar to mine; if you want to remain childless so you can devote your whole being to charity work or something like that, the implications are different.

Okay, so I think many people would agree that we as a society have a collective obligation to ourselves and to future generations to preserve the environment to the best of our ability, hence the effort by people of all persuasions to be more “green.” In a similar vein, does the current generation of people of childbearing age and means have an obligation to raise a future generation of productive individuals, both for our own collective benefit and for the future of the human race? Obviously if everyone chose like I did, humanity would be in deep fudge. Also, raising good citizens is a difficult and often thankless job. However, unlike recycling, most people who have children don’t do it out of a sense of societal obligation, but rather because they have a personal desire to.

So, my questions are, do we as a society have a societal obligation to raise productive citizens? If no, do you think we have an obligation to recycle, and if we do have an obligation to recycle, what are the differences between recycling and child-rearing that make one obligatory and the other not?

If you say yes, what are the limits of this obligation? Are people just obliged to produce at a replacement rate? If people like the Duggars effectively have 19+ kids who will contribute positively to the world (or at least neutrally), does that in effect remove the burden of childrearing for 19 people/9 couples?

Or, because of issues of overpopulation, do you think people with means in both the developing and developed worlds should limit their reproduction? If you think this is the case, do they have some other obligation to ensure that the existing children of the world are properly cared for and raised well? Why or why not?

I do believe that there is a general social obligation to produce a productive future generation, but as to the rest of my questions, I’m not sure where I stand . . .

I believe that people should only bring a child into this world if they are ready, willing, and able to raise that child properly. I am able to do that, but I am neither ready nor willing to do it, so I won’t.

I feel no personal obligation to reproduce. The human race ain’t gonna die out for lack of a Little Oak. If the human race eventually dies out, so what? In umpteen jillion years, the Sun will go super-kablooey, and obliterate most* evidence that we ever existed.

*I suppose Voyager and similar probes will still be roaming the cosmos somewhere.

If you don’t mind me asking, do you feel a personal obligation to recycle as your means allow? If you do, what is the difference between recycling and childrearing? If you personally choose not to recycle, it probably won’t make that much of a difference either . . .

It’s selfish by definition. That doesn’t make it a bad thing.

That’s all well and good. Hopefully things will balance out in the end.

That’s true, but you have to wake up and recognize your responsibility to society as you raise a child. My only problem with childless people is more with the radicals the ‘childfree’ set who think that the normal English word ‘childless’ oppresses them. These are the people likely to vote against funding schools and parks and such. That’s where the ethical obligations come in. My children are people, and you have as much an obligation to them as they have to you.

Well if you want ethical adults in a few years, then yes. Unless we have no children at all which means the last generation of people dies basically in agony with no one to man the nursing homes.

I am not sure I am comfortable with your comparison of recycling and child-rearing. If you have children you are responsible for raising them well. If you create garbage you are responsible to recycle. Past consideration for children as your fellow human beings I don’t think there is much that you are obligated toward. One day you will be old, and it will be my grandkids that are your nurses at the nursing home, remember that.

I think it all balances out in America where we hover around replacement rate. Places like Japan and Germany are starting to see some serious economic concerns as GDP is contingent upon having the workers to produce it. Ultimately yes the Duggars have effectively removed the burden of childrearing for 9 couples, if you look at it from an economic standpoint.

Having wealthy people reduce their breeding doesn’t help overpopulation as overpopulation is a condition of poverty, and whether or not I have a third child doesn’t really impact the goat herders in Mozambique who are having ten kids and whose goats are eating the scrub brush and expanding the Sahara making that country even less livable. In Bolivia, they are having water problems, and I read an article where people were actually considering not having kids because it was hopeless.

It’s an interesting thread, and I think you’ve hit the right points. Economics basically works by the old lending their savings to the young who then produce the GDP of the society.

On a personal level, if you are childless and you live a long and fruitful life you could one day find yourself in a nursing home with no personal advocate.

My impression is that the decision of whether or not to have kids simply lacks an ethical component in the abstract. I don’t believe that many seriously choose to have kids to perpetuate humanity, or refrain from having kids to save the planet. That stikes me as ex post rationalization for choices already made.

The ethics of the choice have to do with the particular situations of the individuals involved. A person refraining to have kids because they are not ready, willing or able to care for them properly, for example.

To all the people who tell you it’s selfish not to have kids, tell them, “You’re right. It’s selfish of me not to have kids. Why would you want an incurably selfish person like myself to become a parent?”

The solution is that people who want to have children should have children, and people who don’t want to have children should not have children. It ain’t complicated.

Thing is, that’s just as flawed as the “what if everyone were gay, the human race would die out!” line you sometimes hear from homophobes.** It’s not going to happen, so it’s a non-issue.

No. If we collectively as a species were to decide that it just wasn’t worth the effort, then that’s our collective choice to make. Humanity is primarily valuable because humans value it; if we don’t consider humanity worth propagating, then it’s not.

Recycling is a matter of not harming other things than yourself; reproduction is about your personal choice. A better reproductive analogy to not recycling would be producing poorly raised children; badly raised enough that other people have to try to repair the damage you have done to them. It’s a matter of causing active harm.

Yes, we should cut down on our reproduction; something the “developed world” has already generally done. And yes we have an obligation to already existing children just like we do to everyone else.

** And no, that’s not meant as an accusation of some sort of bigotry on your part; it was just the example that sprung to my mind of such a “what if everyone” argument

To me there are four parts to this:

  1. We as a species / society are obligated to continue the species / society.

  2. I, as an individual (organism), am not obligated to continue the species / society.

  3. However, I, as an individual (organism), am obligated to enable (not prevent) others from continuing the species / society.

FWIW - Personally, I am unable to have children. It is not a choice.

  1. By my enabling others to continue the species, my implied contract is that those others will not interfere with my right to exist (because I am unable to continue the species).

Granted this last one is the most tenuous. I could conceive of a society that culls the infertile. History has taught us much.

History has also taught us that fertility is not the final measure of value to society. I hope you are living a fulfilling and fruitful life in some other manner, being good and kind to the people around you.

No obligation. As far as I know, recycling is not required by law where I live. For that matter, it isn’t even really an option, as there is no recycling program out in the county–I think there is one in town. However, if there were a program where my house is, I’d likely choose to participate. May or may not do any measurable “good”, but it does no harm and doesn’t require much effort, either.

Just for the record, I have two kids and I’m glad I do.
There are ethical implications, but on both sides of the issue. Yes it is selfish in a sense not to have kids, but it is also selfish to have them, since you are taking up more of the earth’s resources. If you think you have good genetic material which can contribute to society you might be considered selfish in not producing offspring who could do good, but on the other hand if the world goes to hell you might regret producing offspring who will have to suffer through a terrible future.

So, since there is no obvious answer, I take the pro-choice position. I’d never criticize anyone for not having kids, and I hope no one will criticize me for having them.

Certainly, I’d rather kids not be raised by people who don’t want them.

But, I know people will criticize me for having kids. People I know have already done so. ‘The world is overpopulated!’

Change this to virtually all and I agree.

It’s just as “selfish” in general to have children as not to. Like Malthus, I think that ethics doesn’t come into play, with the exception that people who do not have the capacity to properly raise children or have a high likelihood of producing kids with certain fatal genetic disorders (and don’t intend to get prenatal testing when available), are not behaving ethically if they carelessly or deliberately act to create pregnancies.

True, but the same thing can happen if you have children.

It’s less likely.

Who really has kids because of a societal obligation? Having children is an eminently selfish decision!

Not having kids - well, my primary reason is I just don’t want them and never found anything appealing in them. However, another reason is, I want to be an aunt!. I had a single aunt who had no kids who showered love and affection on me and that extra love really helped me out a lot - now my nephews and nieces will have the extra love, too.

Anyway, come back and talk to me when the human race is in any danger of dying out, and yes, I will absolutely have children if that is the case. As it is? Hell no.

I absolutely refuse to go out that way. When the time comes that I can no longer manage my own affairs, I intend to eat a magnum. Oak rides alone. Oak dies alone. So mote it be.

So, just to clarify, you do think there is some obligation of the current generation to propagate the human race? And if the global birthrate fell significantly, say by 25%, you would rethink your decision to remain childless?

That’s respectable. I appreciate an ice floe kind of guy.

While I agree it’s a selfish decision, people do certainly have kids because of a societal obligation. It features quite largely in many Christian faiths, and Judaism and Islam as I understand it as well.

The notions are not mutually exclusive.