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My wife and I never spent much time talking about whether we wanted to have children. It was clear to both of us that we did, and our only concern was that we might not be able to. Yet if you had asked me why I wanted to have children, I would not have had anything very articulate to say. Nor did that fact bother me. Having children just seemed like the natural next step, and I felt no need to have or give reasons.

For increasing numbers of people in developed countries, things are not so simple. The decision whether to have children is regarded as an important lifestyle choice. Many people choose not to have children, and they bristle at the description of themselves as “childless.” The preferred description is “childfree,” which suggests the absence of a burden (compare “carefree”) rather than a form of privation (compare “homeless,” “jobless” or “friendless”). Marketers regard two-career couples without children—or DINKS (dual-income, no kids), in the slang expression—as an attractive target demographic.

Of course, not everyone is sympathetic to the choice not to have children. People who make that choice are sometimes accused of selfishness. The assumption behind this criticism is that an unwillingness to raise children reflects an unseemly form of self-involvement, whereas parenthood involves a willingness to put the needs of others first. Yet some advocates of childfree living return the charge of selfishness with interest. They speak contemptuously of (biological) parents as “breeders” and argue that it is these parents—or at least the affluent “helicopter” parents among them—who, by virtue of their intense involvement in their children’s lives and overinvestment in their futures, exhibit a form of selfishness. The choice to have children, in this view, reflects something closer to narcissism than to altruism.

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