In one of Marcela Munoz’s most recent videos, the 27-year-old dances in a sunny park, wearing denim shorts and high tops. This carefree, untethered social-media post is the embodiment of her mission to celebrate her child-free lifestyle. As the owner of Childfree Millennial TikTok, Instagram and YouTube accounts, Munoz is one of a growing number of influencers producing content designed to validate why they never want to have kids.
“The number-one thing that I always say when people ask me why I’m child-free – it’s because I don’t have a desire to have children,” says Munoz, a small-business owner from Kansas, US. She also believes kids would interfere with her passions for spontaneous travel, football training and regular lie-ins. In one of her other recent posts, she jokes, “if you have baby fever take a nap, if you enjoyed that nap don’t have kids”. “I can’t tell you how many times my [parent] friends are like ‘Oh my gosh, I only got two hours of sleep last night, my kids were throwing up and I had to take care of that,’” says Munoz. “That doesn’t sound appealing to me at all!”
While deciding against having children is nothing new, a trend for owning the ‘child-free’ label and discussing that choice more openly is picking up pace. Alongside the rise of individual influencers like Munoz, online communities and support groups for child-free adults have mushroomed in the past couple of years. But while the child-free movement is growing, researchers argue that societal acceptance and understanding of the choice to live without kids is shifting at a much slower pace.
Choosing a life without kids
Most child-free online communities define their members as people who have consciously decided never to have children. This contrasts with other adults who don’t currently have kids, but want them in the future, or adults who had hoped to have children, but were unable to (usually labelled ‘childless’). Childless people may have faced fertility challenges or other medical issues, or been affected by social circumstances, such as not meeting a suitable or willing partner at the right time, for instance.
The term ‘child-free’ has existed since the early 1900s, although it wasn’t until the 1970s that feminists began using it more widely, as a way of denoting women who were voluntarily childless as a distinct group. The suffix ‘free’ was chosen to capture the sense of freedom and lack of obligation felt by many of those who had voluntarily decided not to have kids.
However, most academic research has typically “lumped all people who don’t have children into the same group,” explains Elizabeth Hintz, an assistant professor in communication at the University of Connecticut, US, who’s studied perceptions of child-free identities. This doesn’t reflect the very different experiences and feelings of child-free and childless people, she says, and means there’s a lack of long-term comparative data looking specifically at either group.