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More adults say they’re not planning to have children amid declining birth rates, poll finds

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Pregnant couple with baby shoes. |

A growing number of U.S. adults who do not already have children say they are unlikely ever to have them as birth rates continue to decline across the country, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

The Pew analysis is based on a sample of 3,866 U.S. adults ages 18 to 49 collected as a part of an extensive survey conducted Oct. 18 through Oct. 24.

Researchers asked respondents with no children to rate their desire to have them in the future, while adults who said they already have children were asked to rate their likelihood of having more.

Respondents were asked, "how likely is it that you will have children someday" in the future.

Forty-four percent of non-parents ages 18 to 49 said it is "not too" or "not at all likely," marking a 7 percentage point increase from the 37% who said the same in a 2018 survey.

Fifty-five percent of non-parents said they were either "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to have children someday, a decrease of about 6 percentage points from 2018.

When asked for a reason, over half — 56% of childless adults — said they just don't want them. The other 43% cited other reasons, including medical issues, finances, not having a partner, climate change and environmental concerns. 

Researchers found that among both parents and non-parents, men and women were equally likely to say they will probably not have kids — or more kids — in the future. However, adults in their 40s were far more likely than younger adults to say they are unlikely to have any or any more children in the future.

When it comes to parents who say they are unlikely to have more children in the future, 63% said it's because they just don't want to. Fathers (69%) were more likely to say this than mothers (59%).

Pew Research Associate Anna Brown notes that the latest findings are consistent with decreasing birth rates across the country, which were already at a record low before the COVID-19 pandemic and dropped even more because of the pandemic. 

Their findings corroborate a September report by the U.S. Census Bureau that found total births in the U.S. has declined every year since 2008 (except for 2014). Between 2000 and 2019, the number of daily births declined an average of 0.39% a year. In 2020, the average number of daily births was 4.06% lower than in 2019.

Additionally, a May report from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics found that the birth rate and fertility rate in the U.S. fell to historic lows in 2020.

W. Bradford Wilcox, who directs the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, called the CDC report was "pretty sobering." 

Wilcox, also a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, said in an interview with Catholic News Agency that the U.S. might be "on the cusp of" something similar to "a demographic earthquake."

In an op-ed written in response to the CDC report, Thom Rainer, founder and CEO of Church Answers, warned that the declining birth rate has strong implications for the Church. These include diminished growth and fewer children and young adults in churches, as one of the primary reasons young adults join churches is to find a spiritual home for their new kids. 

"Evangelism may be our only significant source of church growth in the days ahead. While we would hope that numerical growth would not be the lone motivation or even a primary motivation, we can be grateful for churches reaching people with the Gospel," he wrote. 

"If you as a leader or member of a church wonder where your church's priorities should be, evangelism should be near the top. And though the demographic declines may be an impetus for this shift in priorities, I pray we will soon be so burdened by the lostness of humanity that 'we cannot stop telling about what we have seen and heard' (Acts 4:20, NLT)."

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