The semantics of living without children

By Victoria Fryer 

As we’re all familiar with by now, there are a couple of different words we use to refer to people without children. And I’m wondering: how much does the distinction matter?

“Childless” is a term that, today, typically refers to those who don’t have children yet but want them and those who did want children but were, for some reason or another, unable to have them. “Childfree,” on the other hand, is a term that was coined to indicate those who don’t have children because they don’t want them. (Some refer to these folks as “childless by choice.”)

I’m not sure exactly when the term “childfree” started popping up in English vernacular. However, a Google Trends search showing the popularity of “childfree” as a search term over the last eleven years or so shows that it was at its peak in mid 2004 with a steady decline ever since. With one exception: there was a huge spike in August 2013, which just happened to coincide with the Time cover article that came out, “Having it All Without Children.” I remember when that article came out, and how much buzz it caused, with its obviously privileged, beach-going couple on the cover of the magazine.

By contrast, “childless” has almost always been the most popular search term. When I first started hearing use of the term “childfree,” I thought for sure it would catch on among the childless by choice. It seemed to me to be a needed distinction—I wanted people to know that I wasn’t “trying,” didn’t have any aspirations to be a parent.

But the trends don’t show me being correct, and besides, now I’m not so sure. Sometimes I find the term “childfree” to be a little bit… what’s the word I’m looking for… pretentious? Maybe that’s not exactly it. Showy? Is it really anyone’s business why I don’t have children? Half the time I don’t even believe it’s anyone’s business whether I have kids or not.

So, is the distinction really necessary? Certainly, the histories are different. I know couples who struggled long and hard for a child only to end up disappointed, and I know others who, like us, weren’t ever really interested in the first place. But once the line is drawn, what’s the difference? Do we all struggle with the same things now? Is there a different mindset?

I really don’t know and am interested in your opinions. So, what do you think? How important is it to have two distinguishing terms for “childfree” and “childless”?

Victoria Fryer is a 31-year-old writer and content strategist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two pit bulls. You can find her on Twitter @extoria.


  1. Childless is what I call myself and am comfortable with, even at this stage in my life when I am totally over the baby thing and the happiest I have ever been. Having said that, I do understand why others choose to call themselves childfree. It is all about choice and whatever people feel comfortable with.

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