Each one of us puts pressure on the natural world, consumes the Earth’s finite resources and contributes to climate change. One of the most effective ways that you can help our planet today is by choosing to have a smaller family. That means one, two or even no children.
Smaller families can free you to devote more money and time to other aspects of your lives and communities, such as friendships, careers, volunteering and activities that give you purpose and pleasure. If you do want to experience the pleasures and challenges of becoming a parent, you might find raising your children much easier if you have a small family. Children can be very expensive and having fewer opens up lifestyle choices and educational opportunities that may not be possible with more. Having more time and energy to devote to the children you do have can also make parenting more rewarding and fun. You will also have time to devote to yourselves as a couple and pursue your own individual hobbies and interests.
If you choose to remain childfree, you will have more freedom, including (if you choose) to do other things to help protect the planet or help others.
We spoke to parents and non-parents about the benefits of choosing a smaller family:
“Having 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.”
“I've got two hands and so even if it is just me with them, I've always been able to keep them safe and close. There’s enough time in the week for them to have their own interests and for me to take them to the activities that they want to do, and still have time for myself.”
“While I absolutely love children, I decided not to have my own. 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 the max without fear or reservation.”
Children in small families can do better. While family dynamics vary hugely and kids grow up happy in families of all sizes, your children might benefit from greater attention and the opportunities that arise from fewer siblings. They can learn social skills and understanding from spending more time with children from other families and from being involved in adult activities. They can be more self-sufficient, mature and well-behaved.
Children can reap the benefits of life in a smaller family:
“I did not have to share my parents with siblings. I had endless love, plants to grow, pets to care for, family to visit, and plenty of space to roam. I learned early on to find the silence and solitude that brings you close to nature. With only one child my parents could pay for an excellent education.” - Melinda, UK
“I come from a long line of small families. I have one brother. My parents were able to give my brother and I a top class education, and personal care, despite the family not being wealthy. I plan to do the same for my daughter.” - Ian, South Africa
“With a small family there is time to make bonds strong enough to last a lifetime. When the boys were little and I was out alone with them they could both hold my hand. At home there was room for both of them on my knee at the same time. Out as a family both could have a piggy-back.” - Sara, UK
The French say "l'enfant unique", or one-of-a-kind child instead of “only child”!
Choosing a smaller family is also one of the kindest things that you can do for the Earth. A 2017 study suggested that the single most effective measure any individual in the developed world may be able to take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions over the long-term is to have one fewer child.
“My husband and I made the decision to stop after our first child was born because in countries like Australia the impact of each child on the environment is especially large.” - Vanessa, Australia
Having two children or less can help to:
Provide more open spaces and access to nature in urban areas
Provide higher quality and easier access to infrastructure and services
Ensure cleaner air and easier work commutes
Preserve and grow the earth’s natural habitats
Reduce and reverse biodiversity loss
Help progress towards a cooler planet
“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’re 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.” - Simon, UK
Today in the UK, smaller families are the most common, with 37% of families having two children, and 36% having either no children or one child. If you make the choice to have a smaller family, you will be joining a large community of like-minded individuals.
Families are about love. They can, and should, be influenced by many things - including love and respect for the planet we live on and those we share it with. You should be empowered to choose your own family size, and the choice of whether or not to have children, and how many, is yours.
Sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with our work.