Small families around the world share their thoughts
We asked people why they chose to have small families and were overwhelmed by the hundreds of testimonials we received from around the world. Both parents and child-free people shared their views on small family life and how concern about the environment often played a key role in their decisions about how many children to have.
Family planning decisions are deeply personal and for most people are affected by a multitude of factors. The testimonials below highlight that love and respect for the planet we live on and those we share it with is one that is increasingly important for many people.
The words of Vanessa, from Australia, were typical of many testimonies we received in talking about the motivations for choosing a smaller family and the benefits of it.
“My husband and I made the decision to stop after our first child was born because in first world countries like Australia the impact of each child on the environment is especially large. Our daughter enjoys being an only child and the many benefits that go along with that, which have included our being able to afford to provide her with a decent education and help with her university fees.
My daughter has become a confident and independent young woman - I think her confidence is due, at least in part, to never having to compete for our love or attention.”
Gregory and his partner, from the UK, have one child. In a theme familiar from our testimonies, he wrote about how the additional freedom and less expense of having fewer children provide benefits for their family and the environment:
“When we discussed having children, we decided that having just one was the best way to guarantee a sustainable future for our child. Our daughter is now 4 years old and we genuinely feel that this has been the best decision. Having only one child means that there is time for us as a couple as well as our children. We are able to give our child more in terms of time than we would be able to if we had more children and the bond between the three of us often draws comment. We are able to afford to buy more sustainable foods and fuels. With luck we won't have to struggle to pay for school trips and family holidays.
Whilst money still requires work, there is less stress involved and my wife has not yet had to go back to work. When she does, there will still be time for all of us, as we won't be rushed having to chase around after two children and we won't have to earn enough to feed an extra mouth sustainably.”
Gregory also made clear that their choice was not necessarily an easy or a simple one.
“Sometimes it is hard thinking that our daughter will never know what it is to have a sibling, but it would be harder to think about her not knowing the forests, the woodland animals and insects. As humans, the single greatest thing we can do to halt the mass extinctions we are causing is to have fewer children. The choice is hard, but doing what is right for the planet rather than ourselves often is hard.”
For others though, the benefits for them as a family were very clear. Alix, from England, has two children:
“I’ve enjoyed bringing up my two. We’ve been able to spend plenty of time with each separately as well as both together; we’ve almost never missed attending activities they were involved in; and best of all we’ve been able to do a lot which would have been more difficult with more children to keep an eye on, from sailing a small dinghy when the younger was no more than a toddler, to taking them on serious glacier hikes in their teens. For many years we could pack the four of us and all our camping and sailing or hiking gear into our family car to go on adventurous holidays. And at home, they could have a room each, for when they wanted to be alone, or have their own friends round.”
People also contacted us from places where large families and high population growth are still the norm. Millicent from Kenya wrote
“I have one daughter. I came from a very big family and have seen the effect of forest destruction to make way for human activities. This has contributed to climate change as currently we are facing severe drought which has led to death of both humans and animals. I believe having small families and planting trees is the only sustainable way of restoring our ecosystem.”
Tom, also from Kenya, has one child, because
“I happened to be the third born in a family of 8 children. It was hard for my parents to facilitate our education. With the tough economic times, even provision of one meal in a day was a challenge. I vowed to have a small family myself which I can take care of by providing all the basic needs without overstretching the resources in the world. Through this I have been able to save a little money to start a tree planting project in my home village since people had encroached on the indigenous trees, turning them into fuels.”
Reza, from the UK but from a family from Calcutta took a step further and decided to have no children:
“When I visited Calcutta, I was just shocked that there are so many people everywhere. I was shocked to see people living on the street, and I was shocked that there were people washing on the street. The more people we have, the more resources we will need to look after everyone's energy and material needs. I would have loved to have one child but I did make the difficult decision not to have any because the world population levels are still rising so fast at the moment. But I can still give lots of love to the world.”
Like Reza, very many child-free individuals and couples contacted us and talked about how their choice was a positive one – far from the “selfish” stereotype that is still held by some people. Asha from the United States wrote:
“While I absolutely love children, I decided not to have my own. Contrary to popular belief, our survival depends on us not reproducing. One person's footprint throughout their lifetime is too heavy and costly for our planet and wildlife. Not having children is the biggest gift I can give to ensure the existence of wildlife and our beautiful planet Earth. In addition, I can live my life to max without fear or reservation. It opens up time for me to learn, understand and dedicate my life to things that are bigger than me, and matter more than my existence or the continuation of my DNA.”
Child-free Austin and Amy from Australia also talked about the freedom they enjoy:
“It was obvious to us both from an early age that an already vastly overpopulated planet does not need more people. The best thing about life in a small family is the freedom to adventure and travel and not be encumbered. Life is too short.”
The testimonies we received again and again conveyed a sense of positivity and clear-thinking and revealed the multiple ways in which people gain pleasure and rewards from the choice to have few or no children. We wish we could feature more of them here and will do more in future. For now, we leave the last words to Simon, from England:
“My wife and I both work full time, so we wanted what spare time we do have with our daughter to be quality time. In addition, we are both aware of the extreme environmental challenges faced by our planet and wanted to be part of a responsible collective that mitigates this impact by having a small family. For the same reason we also went vegan in 2015. My wife and I adore our daughter, she brings us so much pleasure because we appreciate her. A small family is like a glass of good wine - enjoyable and something to be savoured!”
Learn more about the benefits of small families here.