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The Reality Behind the Millennial “Baby Bust” Headlines

Millennials are tired of seeing headlines about what their choice not to have kids means… 

TL;DR

  • More than one third of young adults do not want to have kids
  • Concerns about the world, including everything from climate change to the economy, are making them question if they should have children
  • It’s important to recognize that many of the world factors driving this decision feel out of their hands—causing frustration at headlines insinuating “baby busts” are their fault

Headlines about the reasons Millennials “aren’t having kids” pop up constantly—and often reveal judgements about the generation’s choices. And as a part of keeping our finger on the pulse of how other sources are talking about Gen Z and Millennials, YPulse reports on these stories in our daily and weekly newsletters, which we share on social media, too. Recently, one of our Tweets (circa 2016), reporting on an article claiming Millennials are causing a “baby bust,” showed up in a TikTok which has nearly 400K views. Viewers were quick to share their frustrations with the insinuations of such a claim. The comments reflect many young peoples’ reactions to these kinds of headlines: they lack the nuance of exactly why Millennials aren’t having kids at the rate or young age their parents did. On a stitch of the original video, one commentor writes: “it’s so funny to me that they say millennials are causing it. like no, did we make life unaffordable? no we didn’t, blame boomers.”  

Though our original Tweet back in 2016 was quoting another publication, we get the outrage. Too often stories about Millennials and Gen Z are written without the context and insights on the realities the generations are facing and why these shifts are happening from their perspective. YPulse dedicates our own research to reporting on what Millennials and Gen Z themselves say about their future plans, including whether they want kids, and some of the reasons why they’re choosing to delay or forego parenthood.  

YPulse’s Millennial Parenting report shows that 40% of Millennials, and 36% of 18-39-year-olds, are already parents. But for many of those that are not yet, parenthood is not off the table. We ask non-parents about whether they want children, and here’s how many 18-39-year-olds say they do, and how many don’t: 

Pie chart showing how many non-parent Gen Z and Millennials do or do not want to have children

More than one third of young adults don’t want children—for plenty of reasons 

First, as we’ve said many times before, the majority of young non-parents do want to have children eventually—so accusations that they are causing a “baby bust” might be pre-emptive. The reality is that they’re not having children at the same pace as previous generations not that they’re abandoning parenthood en-masse. But YPulse data does show that 37% of 18-39-year-old non-parents say they do not want to have children. And though many say these gens will change their mind when they get older, our data actually shows they grow more confident in the decision as they age up: 40% of 25-39-year-old non-parents say they don’t want children, compared to 33% of 18-24-year-old non-parents.  

There’s a range of reasons why young people are delaying having a family or deciding not to have one at all. When YPulse asked in 2019 why Millennials who didn’t want kids were not interested in them, their top reason was financially driven and concerns about global instability were high on their list. And of course, the pandemic only exaggerated (and validated) these reasons to delay or swear off having kids.  

Now, the majority of young people agree with the statement “I don’t want to bring a child into this world right now.” Even 52% of Millennial parents agree, up from 44% who agreed with this statement last year, showing how the stress these gens feel about their world and the future are having a serious impact on their decision to not have (more) kids. Some go so far as to ask the question: is it ethical to have children in the face of issues like climate change? For non-parents, 71% agree; even though many would like to have kids, now is not the right time for them. But others don’t see there ever being a right time; the comments on the aforementioned TikTok show reasons like student debt, inflation, and low wages are leading issues keeping young people from planning to have kids—in addition to simply being happy without them.  

Finances are clearly a huge part of their decision to delay having kids, as even 57% of Millennial parents agree “I wish I could have more kids, but we can’t afford it.” For those who are not parents, there’s debt to consider: YPulse data shows 60% of young people overall are holding some kind of debt, and 69% of 18-39-year-olds do, making it hard to fathom how they could pay for more than themselves—especially with the worry over recession and inflation that they currently see as having no end in sight.   

So, when YPulse reports on headlines touting another issue with “Millennials not having kids,” we know what’s driving those Millennials (and soon, Gen Z) to make those choices. Even though the majority of non-parent 18-39-year-olds do want kids eventually, there’s too many things going on in the world that make it feel impossible, which makes headlines insinuating that they alone are causing a “baby bust” frustrating to them. What Millennials and Gen Z’s responses to such headlines reveal is that they are looking for change larger than they can enact on an individual scale, and the circumstances influencing their decision to not have children feel out of their own control.