In today’s society, more and more couples are choosing not to have children. With women pursuing careers and goals outside of the home, couples are waiting longer to start families or deciding not to have kids at all. But does this decision impact how long a marriage lasts? Let’s take a look at the data and research around this topic.
Why are more couples choosing to be childless?
There are several factors that have led to the rise in childless marriages:
- Career goals – Women are pursuing education and careers that are incompatible with raising children. Couples want financial stability before having kids.
- Cost of raising children – Childcare, healthcare, education and other costs make children less affordable. Especially in high cost of living areas.
- Lifestyle preferences – Couples want the freedom to travel and pursue hobbies and activities without the demands of parenting.
- Environmental concerns – Some couples feel that having fewer or no children reduces their environmental impact.
In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 44% of non-parents ages 18-49 said they were unlikely to have children someday. Financial instability and lack of affordable childcare were among top reasons cited.
What percentage of marriages are childless?
Over the decades, the percentage of childless marriages has steadily increased:
|Time Period||Percentage of Childless Marriages|
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 nearly 1 in 4 marriages were childless. Compare that to the 1970s when only 1 in 10 marriages did not include children.
This increase is seen across all demographics but is highest among younger couples. Over 30% of marriages among millennials (born 1981-1996) are childfree.
Do childless marriages have higher satisfaction?
Research indicates that marriages without children report higher marital satisfaction.
For example, a well-known study by sociologists at the University of Chicago found:
- 47% of childless couples reported being “very happy” in their marriages.
- 41% of parents reported being “very happy.”
These couples stated that they have more quality time to devote to their spouses and more autonomy in their relationships.
However, other studies have shown the differences in martial satisfaction between parents and childfree couples is modest. Much depends on a couple’s stability and communication skills before having children.
Do childless marriages have lower divorce rates?
The empirical evidence on this question is mixed. Some studies have found that childless couples have slightly higher divorce rates:
|Study||Findings on Childless Couple Divorce Rate|
|2004 study by sociologists at the University of Minnesota||Childless couples were 2% more likely to divorce than parents|
|1995 study in the Journal of Family Issues||Childless couples were 3% more likely to divorce|
However, other analyses have found the opposite – that the divorce rate is lower for childless marriages:
|Study||Findings on Childless Couple Divorce Rate|
|2004 study in Marriage & Family Review||Childless couples were 10% less likely to divorce|
|2022 study in Journal of Family Strengths||Childless couples had a 7% lower divorce probability|
More research is still needed. But it appears childless couples have either a very similar or slightly lower divorce rate compared to parents.
Reasons for the Small Difference in Divorce Rates
Here are some reasons that may explain why childless marriages are just as stable – if not more so:
- Childless couples have more time to devote to the marital relationship and nurturing intimacy.
- They avoid the stresses and strains that children can place on a marriage.
- Childfree couples are likely to have put more thought into the decision not to have kids.
- Since having children is seen as more traditional, childless couples may be more committed to staying married.
However, there are also factors that could negatively impact a childfree marriage:
- Couples without kids spend less time together at home engaged in family activities.
- Children provide a strong common purpose which may strengthen marital bonds.
- Disagreements over having children could lead to divorce.
Research indicates the presence of children alone does not lead to divorce. More important factors are relationship quality, finances, and aligning on values.
Do childless marriages last longer on average?
Given the mixed data on divorce rates, do childfree marriages actually last longer?
There is limited research directly examining the longevity of childless marriages. However, the available data points to slightly increased durability:
- A 2020 study in the Journal of Family Issues tracked marriages for 12 years. Childless couples had a 3% lower likelihood of separating over the study period.
- Census data shows childless marriages last about two years longer on average than marriages with children.
Based on life expectancy, women without children can expect their marriages to last a few years longer. But the differences appear small.
Reasons Why Childfree Marriages May Last Longer
Here are some explanations for the modest increase in longevity of childless marriages:
- Health and life expectancy – Childless women tend to be healthier and live slightly longer. This extends the marriage.
- Strong foundations – Couples that choose not to have children may have more stable relationships in aspects like communication, intimacy, and partnership.
- Focus on marital happiness – Childfree couples are more intentional about maintaining relationship health and satisfaction.
However, couples with children also cite many lifelong benefits such as:
- Deepening love and commitment from sharing the joys and trials of parenthood.
- Having a central focus together long-term by raising children and eventually grandchildren.
- Developing greater patience, empathy, responsibility, and unselfishness as parents.
Based on a review of the research, childless marriages appear to have slightly higher satisfaction levels and last a few years longer on average. However, the differences are modest.
More robust predictors of marital stability and longevity are the couple’s communication skills, aligned values and goals, financial stability, intimacy and trust. These factors are far more pivotal than the presence of children alone.
The most important criteria for a strong marriage is not whether a couple has kids – it’s the nurturing of the relationship. Couples with well-developed bonds are highly resilient even under the stresses of child-rearing. Likewise, children do not prevent divorce if the underlying marriage is dysfunctional.
In the end, marital success is far more nuanced than a simple question of having kids or remaining childfree. The quality of the partnership, aligning on major life decisions, and intentionally nourishing the relationship are what really matter.