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Judged, worried, divided by gender: new poll on parenting and family size

13 May 2021

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Judged, worried, divided by gender: new poll on parenting and family size.

A new opinion poll conducted by smaller families campaign charity Population Matters has uncovered uncertainty, concern and some significant divisions between women and men in their experiences and attitudes to family size. 

The Yonder poll of more than 4,000 UK adults was conducted in the run up to International Day of Families this Saturday, 15th May. It found that almost one-in-five people polled (18%) don’t want children at all and the majority of people want two children or less (62%). [1]

However, more than half of 18-35 year-old women polled who have chosen to be childfree feel they have been judged negatively for their choice (54%). Typical of a gender split found across the survey, less than half the proportion of men in the same age bracket who have made the same choice felt they had been negatively judged (21%). [2]

Similarly, the poll found that a large minority of people questioned who have just one child – more than a third (35%)- believe that parents like them are judged negatively. [3]

The poll has also uncovered a significant driver of family size choice among young people. When asked about the influence of environmental concerns, nearly a third of 18-24 year-olds (29%) say their understanding of the environment has made them want to have fewer or no children, while a very similar proportion (31%) say concerns about the negative environmental effects of having children makes them want to have fewer or none. [4,5]

Detailed findings include:

  • Having two children remains the most common preferred family size, with approximately a quarter of respondents (27%) wanting three or more children. 37% of those polled wanted two; 7% saying they wanted just one child; 18% no children.  This totals 62% seeking family size below the “replacement rate” of 2.1, at which population is stable. 16% wanted three children; 8% wanted 4 children; 3% wanted five or more.
  • Among respondents over 45, four in ten of those who have no children want to have them. Among all those over 45 years old – who are thus likely to have completed their biological families – 32% have no children but only 19% responded that they wanted no children. In the 45-54 age bracket, 38% of respondents have no children, but only 24% responded that they want to have no children. [6]
  •  More women than men perceive negative judgements on those who have small families or are childfree.  The survey asked whether respondents felt that people were judged negatively for being childfree and for having just one child, and also whether they personally had felt judged negatively if they had made one of those choices. In all four scenarios, more women agreed than men. For example, 63% of female respondents felt that people are judged negatively for not wanting to have children, but just 43% of men. [7]
  • Half of all people who are childfree by choice believe people who do not want children are judged negatively (51%).
  • About half of all respondents believe those who don’t want children are judged negatively. 53% agree that they feel people who do not want children are judged negatively; 20% disagree.
  • Among childfree young people, the number of respondents who feel the childfree are judged negatively is higher. In the 18-35 year-old bracket, 80% of childfree women believe people are judged negatively, and 59% of childfree men
  • Perceptions of negative judgement are generally higher than experiences of it. The number of respondents overall who feel that the childfree and parents of one child are judged negatively is higher than the number of childfree people and parents of one child who actually report personally feeling judged (53% v 31% for childfree; 29% v 14% for parents of only children).
  • 18-24 year-olds are more influenced by concerns about the environment than 25-34 year olds. Nearly a third of 18-24 year-olds (29%) and a quarter of 25-34yr-olds (26%) say their understanding of environmental problems such as climate change makes them want to have fewer or no children. 31% of 18-24 year-olds say concern around the environmental effects of having children, such as the climate emissions they may produce, makes them want to have fewer or no children: for 25-34 year-olds the figure is 24%.

Childfree Jenny Chapman (33) says:

“My impact on the environment is something I care deeply about. We hear a lot about the positive impacts of things like choosing plant-based diets, giving up flying and cycling – that’s all really good but the impact of having children dwarfs these choices. I am so lucky that I have been able to make the very personal decision to be childfree without pressure from others, although being called selfish continues to baffle me.

“Expectations of women have come so far in the last century but I want every woman who wants to be childfree to be able to confidently make the decision without the fear of judgment and ridicule. On an individual level, not having children gives me so much freedom – I have the time, energy and finances to live such a rich and rewarding life filled with hobbies, volunteering and friendships.” 

Father of a six-year-old, Gregory Hamilton (44) says:

“Initially we made our one child choice for entirely environmentally sustainable reasons. We slowly discovered that our decision has allowed us the freedom to be more present for our child and in turn allowed her the freedom to be a child. To explore, to learn and to play without the ever-present rush from pillar to post demanded of modern society. It has meant that we have more of that most precious commodity with her – time. Now, even in a world with no environmental pressures, we wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Population Matters director Robin Maynard says:

“The landscape of parenting is changing fast, and young people face personal and global considerations their parents never did. At Population Matters we talk with people who have chosen small families every day, but even we were surprised by how many young people are considering smaller families because of environmental concerns.

“It is deeply disappointing to hear that the childfree and parents of one child still face criticism and negativity, not least because such personal, responsible choices are supported by the science. Having one less child, especially in a high consuming country like the UK, is the top eco action for taking the heat off our planet and securing a better future for children everywhere.

“The most depressing finding was seeing that in 2021, it seems there remains a societal expectation and pressure upon women to have children, and that they face judgement if they don’t.”

A 2017 study concluded that by far the single most effective measure an individual in the developed world could take to cut their carbon emissions over the long term would be to have one fewer child. It suggested that this action could reduce emissions by as much as 20 times more than any other action it evaluated, including plant-based diets, being car-free and reducing flying. [8]

Full poll results available here.

Contact: Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications

E:; T: 0208 123 9170 (24hrs)


Yonder (formerly Populus) conducted an online sample of 4,177 UK adults 18+ between 30th April and 6th May 2021.  Data is weighted to be representative of the population of the UK.  Targets for quotas and weights are taken from the PAMCO survey, a random probability F2F survey conducted annually with 35,000 adults. Yonder is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by it rules.  For further information see  

The sample size of 18-35 year-olds was 1,239. Note that among some sub-categories referred to in this release, sample size was significantly lower.

The UN’s International Day of Families  “provides an opportunity to promote awareness of issues relating to families and to increase the knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families”.

  1. Question: In an ideal world, how many children, if any, would you like to have in total?
  2. Question: Do you feel or have you ever felt judged negatively for the amount of children you have and/or the amount of children you want? [Figures above are net “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree”.]
  3. Question: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: I feel that people who choose to have an only child are judged negatively. [Figures above are net “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree”.]
  4. Question: In regard to your plans about children in the future, does or has your understanding of environmental problems such as climate change affect your plans?
  5. Question asked: In regard to the plans about children in the future, does or has concern around environmental effects of having children, such as the climate emissions they may produce, affect your plans?
  6. Question: We’d like to know how many children, if any, you currently have. If you are currently expecting a child, please include this in the figure
  7. Results from questions in Notes 2 and 3 above, and Poll Question 4: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: I feel that people who do not want to have children are judged negatively. [Figures above are net “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree”.]
  8. Wynes, Seth, and Kimberly A Nicholas. 2017. “The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions.” Environmental Research Letters 12(7).


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