Everywhere you look, there are numbers about how much money you should have by X age. The problem with these numbers is that they all assume you have kids. It is normal to want to know how you are doing, but for people who don’t have kids, and aren’t planning on having kids, these benchmarks just don’t fit. To get a better picture of the impact of being Childfree on finances and life, I surveyed 299 Childfree people. I also interviewed 26 people, which became the basis for the book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth.” The bottom line of all of the research is that while being Childfree does not automatically make you rich, it may make you happy.
Let’s look at the high-level numbers…
Income – The median income range was $60,000 - $89,999 in the study. In comparison, the US Median was $54,132 for the second quarter of 2022.
Debt – The overall percentage of Childfree people carrying any type of debt was similar to the US as a whole. For example, 55% of the US carry a balance on their credit card, compared to 53.18% of Childfree people.
Assets – Overall, there wasn’t much difference, but while 65.5% of the US owns a home, in comparison, 55.18% of the survey respondents own a home.
Net Worth – Your net worth is everything you own, minus everything you owe. Rather than look at the median or mean net worth, it was helpful to look at categories of net worth. Interestingly, while approximately 9% of the US as a whole are millionaires, 13.4% of those surveyed are millionaires. At the same time, an Aspen Institute study found that 11% of the US has a negative net worth, while in the Childfree sample, it was 32.4%.
There needs to be a lot more research about the financial numbers, but the bottom line is that being Childfree does not protect people from income and wealth disparities.
Childfree people do seem to have a higher education level than the general population (75.92% having a Bachelor’s degree or further education), but that may be skewed by a slightly younger sample in this study than the overall US population.
Let’s get to the fun stuff – What about their life?
As part of the survey, we asked the ultimate question: “Are you happy with your life?” The overwhelming answer was yes (n=281, 94%). Respondents shared that they were happy with their life overall, and particularly the freedom they have. One participant shared both her own reflection and what her childhood self would say:
"Very. I love my husband, and I love the life we’ve created. I wish I could show my childhood me what I’m up to because I think she would be proud and think I am a badass. I also think she would be relieved - I think she would see that while I am married (like she always expected), I don’t have kids, and my life is full of fun, joy, and adventure (which she didn’t expect). She would be relieved that I am healthy and happy and not a mindless drone who did what all her high school friends did. She would be proud she escaped the narrative she had been force-fed her entire life.
Above all, I feel really lucky. The United States is not the easiest country to be childfree in - but I have enough privilege, resources, and agency to maintain my CF lifestyle because, at the end of the day, I can afford reproductive control of my body. This is not something that everyone has - so while I feel extremely happy with my life, I recognize how blessed and secure I am in it. "
How about why did people choose to be Childfree?
It is not surprising to me, but it may be to some that Childfree people put a lot of thought into their choice. 53.17% of participants had more than one reason. Here is an overview of the major themes of why people choose to be Childfree:
While each person had their own reason for being Childfree, the one commonality with most of the answers has to be the amount of thought and depth that people put into their choice:
“I don’t want to deal with the emotional, financial and physical toll that children take. On top of that, I’m essentially infertile, making the financial aspect of having kids even greater. I see my coworkers and family dealing with life with kids and the emergencies and surprises that come along, and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with that everyday.”
We asked participants, “What does “Childfree Wealth” mean to you?” In the end, we found that Childfree Wealth means you have the time, money, and freedom to do what you want to do. Here are some sample responses:
“A “wealth” of freedom, time, and money”
“Not only is the having the financial resource to do what you want, it’s also having the time and freedom. Not needing to pick up kids after school, not having to stay home with them on the weekends or do child-stuff. I can do what I want when I want.”
“A well lived childfree life involves making the world a better place for the children who will come after me. It means enjoying the life I have left to live and having people close to me to enjoy too. It's not feeling beholden to anyone or anything for my happiness and wellbeing, but being able to take care of myself.”
Being Childfree (or permanently childless) allows people to have a different set of constraints. It does not free them from struggles, money troubles, or make everything perfect. It does let them live their own authentic and best lives. Each person shared their perspective, and it was remarkable how similar many of them were, even considering the wide cross-section of the US surveyed.
From a financial planning perspective, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professionals need to recognize that the combination of having time, money, and freedom at the same time will mean they need a more flexible financial plan. This flexibility may mean making different investments, and investing in growth, experiences, and life more than just finances.
In reflection, it may be that the fact that Childfree people are not leaving money to the next generation may impact their overall net worth. Future research should examine the impact of different estate planning goals on financial planning.
Childfree people make up a large and growing portion of the US population. We all need to embrace those who choose a different life path (or did not have a choice, as may be the case). If we are going to have a culture that embraces diversity, that needs to include people who are Childfree or permanently childless.
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About the Author
He has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, and many other publications.