Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

Living Edition
| Editors: Jay Lebow, Anthony Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Childfree Couples

  • Mudita Rastogi
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-15877-8_850-1

Name of your Entry

Childfree Couples



In many cultures couples have traditionally followed the path of meeting, getting married, and raising a family. For some, this is the right choice but for others, factors such as career, prioritizing couple closeness, disinterest in raising children, and financial stability become more significant than choosing to be a parent. While “childless couples are unable to have children due to biological or psychological reasons, being voluntarily childfree is quite different than grappling with infertility or deciding to become adoptive parents.


Many couples feel that family and society expect them to follow a sequence of life stages including growing their family by adding children after they get married. The picture of a nuclear family with two parents and their biological children is widely portrayed in the media; couples desiring not to have children are often underrepresented in popular culture. Couples who temporarily identify as childfree are seen in a more positive light than couples who choose to remain childfree permanently (Koropeckyj-Cox et al. 2007). The latter often experience pressure and/or stigma from society.

At the same time a number of demographic changes have been noted in the USA. The number of married couples is slowly decreasing with more individuals cohabiting before marriage or choosing not to marry at all (McGoldrick 2011). College educated individuals are more likely to delay marriage, with few individuals marrying before age 25 (Cherlin 2010). Furthermore, an increasing number of couples have chosen to remain childfree. In 1990, roughly six million childless married couples were under the age of 45 (American Demographics 1993). At present couples without children make up about 6.9% of the population in the United States (CDC 2015) with some estimates of voluntary childlessness at 7–8% of the US population (Abma and Martinez 2006).

Relevant Research About Family Life

People report that their reasons for choosing to not pursue parenthood includes greater sense of freedom from responsibility in being sans children, prioritizing their couple relationship, career and economic considerations, philanthropic concerns, not liking children, their own early socialization experiences, and concerns about the physical changes of bearing children (Hird and Abshoff 2000).

Contemporary marriages in the developed world are less concerned with cultural and family needs and instead individuals focus on personal fulfilment and satisfying partnerships (McGoldrick 2011). Since the 1970s women in these nations have decreased childbearing voluntarily in order to pursue other roles and identities (Hird and Abshoff 2000). Feminism enhanced women’s rights in numerous areas including reproductive freedoms so that choosing motherhood became a choice (Boucai and Karniol 2008; Rittenour and Colaner 2012). Furthermore, in the USA, we saw a trend of emerging adults (individuals in their 20s) completing higher levels of education than previous generations (Merz and Liefbroer 2012), and postponing relational decisions in order to pursue career and personal goals, compared with individuals in earlier times who sought the stability much earlier in life.

While individuals who choose to be childfree come from diverse racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds (Mollen 2006), women hold more favorable attitudes towards being childfree than men, reflecting the higher opportunity costs of motherhood versus fatherhood (Merz and Liefbroer 2012). Individuals who display low religiosity, have civil versus religious wedding ceremonies, and who tend to disagree with traditional Biblical beliefs are more likely to decide to remain childfree (Heaton et al. 1992).

Very little research exists on the topic of couples’ decision-making on whether to become parents or not. Cowan and Cowan’s (2000) study on reproductive decision-making found that approximately half of the couples take a thoughtful approach in deciding whether or not to have children. Notably, 12% of the couples they observed were categorized as “Yes-No” couples with one partner ready to pursue parenthood while the other did not. By the time the child reached 6 years of age, all of the “Yes-No” couples had divorced (Cowan and Cowan 2000; Massey-Hastings 2011).

Special Considerations for Couple and Family Therapy

Clearly, this clinical issue has significant impact on couples and families. One model, Choosing a Childfree or Parenting Lifestyle (CCOPL), uses a psychoeducational approach via ten modules to help couples clarify their own and their partners’ attachment needs. It helps partners explore, communicate, and decide whether to remain childfree or become a parent (Massey-Hastings 2011, 2016; Massey-Hastings and Rastogi 2013). The CCOPL is in the process of being turned into an online, self-paced psychoeducational program (Rastogi 2016; Rastogi and Massey-Hastings 2015). Additionally, couple and family therapists working with childfree couples should consider the following:
  1. 1.

    Women who reject motherhood may face more social consequences than men (Mollen 2006). Therapists may wish to discuss with their clients notions of motherhood, femininity, and the gendered cost of nonconformity.

  2. 2.

    Childfree couples are often perceived in less favorable light than those who are parents (Mollen 2006; Kemkes 2008). They may be perceived as lacking the commitment and responsibility required to raise children (Hird and Abshoff 2000). These couples may also receive unsolicited advice and pressure from friends, family, and strangers that they might regret the decision later. Therapists can assist these couples in examining their choices in depth.

  3. 3.

    Couples who value their religious traditions that endorse the importance of procreation may face additional pressure to explain their childfree stance (Merz and Liefbroer 2012). These couples may need support in understanding and resolving their conflicting values and desires.

  4. 4.

    Cowan and Cowan (2000) found that a majority of couples fluctuated between wanting/not wanting to have children. Couple and family therapists need to be prepared for their clients’ decisions to shift. Further, it is paramount to help couples negotiate this issue honestly in the case of “Yes-No” couples.




  1. Abma, J. C., & Martinez, G. M. (2006). Childlessness among older women in the united states: Trends and profiles. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(4), 1045–1056. Retrieved from http://origin-search.proquest.com/docview/62110170?accountid=34899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. American Demographics. (1993). Childless couples. American Demographics, 15(12), 34. Retrieved from http://origin-search.proquest.com/docview/200607829? accountid=34899.Google Scholar
  3. Boucai, L., & Karniol, R. (2008). Suppressing and priming the motivation for motherhood. Sex Roles, 59(11–12), 851–870.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9489-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cherlin, A. J. (2010). Demographic trends in the united states: A review of research in the 2000s. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 403–419.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00710.x.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  5. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (2015). National survey of family growth: childlessness. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nsfg/key_statistics/c.htm#childlessness
  6. Cowan, C. P., & Cowan, P. A. (2000). When partners become parents: The big life change for couples. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  7. Heaton, T. B., Jacobson, C. K., & Fu, S. N. (1992). Religiosity of married couples and childlessness. Review of Religious Research, 33(3), 244–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Hird, M. J., & Abshoff, K. (2000). Women without children: A contradiction in terms? Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 31(3), 347–366. Retrieved from http://origin-search.proquest.com/docview/232581954?accountid=34899.Google Scholar
  9. Kemkes, A. (2008). Is perceived childlessness a cue for stereotyping? Evolutionary aspects of a social phenomenon. Biodemography and Social Biology, 54(1), 33–46.  https://doi.org/10.1080/19485565.2008.9989130.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Koropeckyj-Cox, T., Romano, V., & Moras, A. (2007). Through the lenses of gender, race, and class: Students’ perceptions of childless/childfree individuals and couples. Sex Roles, 56, 415–428.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-006-9172-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Massey-Hastings, N. (2011). Choosing the parenting lifestyle: A manualized psycho-educational primary intervention for couples regarding reproductive decisions. Doctoral dissertation, American School of Professional Psychology/Argosy University, Schaumburg.Google Scholar
  12. Massey-Hastings, N. (2016). CCOPL: Choosing the childfree or parenting lifestyle. Retrieved from http://CCOPL.org.
  13. Massey-Hastings, N., & Rastogi, M. (2013, February). Initial pilot study findings: Choosing the childfree or parenting lifestyle-A manualized psycho-educational primary intervention for couples regarding reproductive decisions. Paper presented at the second international conference on cognitive behavioral psychology, Singapore.Google Scholar
  14. McGoldrick, M. (2011). Chapter 13: Becoming a couple. In M. McGoldrick, B. Carter, & N. Garcia-Preto (Eds.), The expanded family life cycle: Individual, family, and social perspectives (4th ed., pp. 193–210). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  15. Merz, E., & Liefbroer, A. C. (2012). The attitude toward voluntary childlessness in Europe: Cultural and institutional explanations. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(3), 587–600. Retrieved from http://origin-search.proquest.com/docview/1023528253?accountid=34899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mollen, D. (2006). Voluntarily childfree women: Experiences and counseling considerations. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28(3), 269–282. Retrieved from http://origin-search.proquest.com/docview/198712492?accountid=34899.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Rastogi, M. (2016, February). Choosing the childfree or parenting lifestyle (CCOPL): Harnessing educational technology for psychoeducation and personal growth. TeachMeet paper presented at the 8th annual 21CL conference, Hong Kong, SAR.Google Scholar
  18. Rastogi, M., & Massey-Hastings, N. (2015, March). Adapting a psycho-educational program for couples regarding reproductive decisions: In-Vivo to online models. Paper presented at the international education conference, Clute Institute, San JuanGoogle Scholar
  19. Rittenour, C. E., & Colaner, C. W. (2012). Finding female fulfillment: Intersecitng role-based and morality-based identities of motherhood, feminism, and generativity as predictors of women’s self-satisfaction and life satisfaction. Sex Roles, 67, 351–362.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-012-0186-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mudita Rastogi
    • 1
  1. 1.Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Argosy UniversitySchaumburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Mudita Rastogi
    • 1
  1. 1.Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Argosy UniversitySchaumburgUSA