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Is choosing not to have children selfish?

Time magazine’s cover story last week carried this headline: “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.”

As you might assume, we found little to like or to agree with in the article.

The article included a public opinion poll with some disturbing results. Let us mention just the four questions that bothered us most:

  1. Does having kids bring you: happiness, 25.71 percent; unhappiness, 37.25 percent; less happiness in the short term but more fulfillment in the long term, 37.04 percent.
  2. Is the declining birth rate: good for American society, 33.36 percent; bad for American society, 12.12 percent; neither, we'll adjust, 55 percent.
  3. Should people without kids be given tax breaks and workplace leave to make up for benefits given to parents? Yes, 66.56 percent; no, 33.44 percent.
  4. Do you think people are “selfish” for choosing to not have children? Yes, 8.24 percent; no, 91.76 percent.

On question one: Doesn’t this depend on how “happiness” is defined? If happiness means ease, or fewer worries, or more freedom and personal options, then maybe the 37 percent who say kids bring unhappiness have a point. But if happiness means love and sacrifice and fulfillment and the unique joy that children bring, then the 25 percent who say children bring happiness should be closer to 100 percent.

On question two: This one drives us crazy! If you think that the U.S. birthrate, now at its lowest point in history, is good for society, or if you think that our declining workforce is a good thing for our economy, we think you need to wake up.

On question three: Wait a minute. Aren’t the tax breaks and deductions for kids an effort to give parents a small break for the expenses of raising a child — for creating a responsible citizen who bolsters the economy and pays for our social security when we are old? Why should persons who do not have the expense of raising children have the same tax breaks? (By the way, the child deduction is tiny today in proportion to what it originally was, and if anything, it should be raised as an acknowledgement of the contribution, financially and otherwise, that parents make.)

On question four: Here we come to a point where there is a great divide according to spiritual belief. Those who share our faith believe that our children are our spirit brothers and sisters who come from a premortal existence and deserve their turn on earth, and feel that becoming parents of these children is a God-given honor and a holy stewardship. For us, choosing not to have children is, clearly, a spiritually selfish choice.

Those without this belief — particularly if operating under the assumption that the earth may already have too many people on it — might decide that parents who bring another child into the world are depleting the earth’s resources and being selfish by using more than their share of what the earth has. (There would be far more justification for this thinking in certain developing nations facing scarcity than in this country or in Europe where the biggest economic problem of the future is a dwindling work force.)

So thank you, Time magazine, for pointing out some collective American foolishness and for inadvertently reminding us how unique and different our LDS perspective is.

If we could write a counter article, it might have the headline, “The Abundant Life: When Having It All Means Having Children and All That Goes With Them.”

Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at or Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront.”