Why is childlessness still such a taboo subject?

By Nina Steele 

It is the elephant in the room, the subject people would rather not discuss. But why? Why has childlessness been made into such a taboo? I suppose one of the obvious answers will be that we live in a society dominated by the ideal of the nuclear family and so not having children excludes one from mainstream society. You only need to see the many adverts directed at families with children to understand how totally child centric our society is. I have nothing against it and will happily watch programmes with children as its main subject. I have always had a thirst for knowledge and so I welcome anything that allows me to broaden my mind. Even so, I still find it difficult to understand why childlessness has been made into a taboo. I mean this is 2014!

Our parents’ generation talk often about how things have changed. Advances in technology have made globalisation possible and give the impression that we live in a global village as some people have called it. Indeed, to many older people, society has changed beyond anything they could ever have imagined. Yet with all these changes, people without children are still viewed with suspicion in some quarters with adjectives such as selfish being thrown at some. There are many stories of childless by choice people being told they will regret their decision, that they will be lonely in old age or that they don’t know what they are missing to name but these few. I mean with all the changes within society, you would think that being childless will be acceptable by now, but it seems that like many other issues that are deemed not part of mainstream society, this is still not the case. It seems that the ideal of the nuclear family is so ingrained in people’s psyche that society is still not ready to accept that many people are living happy and fulfilled lives without children. This idea that everyone should have children is so pervasive that many feel the need to have them even though they are not fit to be parents, with dire consequences in some cases. Are we really saying that we have become so obsessed with the ideal of the nuclear family that we would rather everyone had children, even though some of those people end up being awful parents. I mean really? Society is full of children with bad parents, yet childless people are made to feel bad for not having children, particularly those who choose not to have them.

Ultimately having children is a choice and with the implications being so great, making the decision not to have any is not only commendable but it should also be given the respect that it deserves. Similarly, people like myself who are childless by circumstance should not feel ashamed to talk about it. Only by talking about it more often will we make childlessness less of a taboo subject and part of mainstream society.


  1. Some people just cannot understand that there are people out there who do not want children. It is just not for everyone. Yes I agree that there is a certain obsession in society about having children, which as you rightly say explains why childlessness has become a taboo subject.

  2. I believe that this obsession must have something to do with our innate survival instinct. That urge to reproduce no matter what has to be linked to that instinct. Children are seen as a continuation of ourselves, should something happen to us. Some people have also mentioned that the ideal of the nuclear family is the basis of capitalist ideology itself. The argument is that people had to have an incentive to accumulate material possessions and providing for the family was that incentive. Although there is an element of truth in this, I am not sure that I agree entirely. For example how do you explain that some people in rural areas of Africa, with not much in terms of material possessions, still feel the need to have many children?

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