The latest numbers suggest that an amazingly high percentage of women today””18.8 percent””complete their childbearing years having had no children. Another 18.5 percent of women finish having had only one child. Together, that’s nearly 40 percent of Americans who go their entire lives having either one child or no children at all.
And it’s a big change in behavior from the recent past. There have always been people who lived without having children””either by happenstance or by choice. But for all of American history, the numbers of this cohort were fairly small. In 1970, for instance, just about 8 percent of women completed their childbearing years with no children. (And only about 11 percent of women finished with only one child.) Over the next 40 years, those numbers rose almost without interruption. (The numbers ticked backward only once, in 2002.) This dramatic increase in childlessness””the number more than doubled””took place in just two generations and came at a time when medical advances were drastically improving the odds of infertile couples conceiving.
So what happened?