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We're Child-Free, Not Childless

More American women are choosing not to have children, according to a new report from the Census Bureau.

But the Census Bureau and the mainstream media continue to refer to women without children as "childless" instead of "child-free." Child-free implies women made an affirmative decision not to have children. Childless implies women are infertile and could not have children. As one who made that affirmative decision (I had no children on purpose), I am hereby launching my own personal media campaign to make "child-free" the term of choice, not "childless."

I'm glad many women want to have children. It's a biological imperative, or the species might perish. But the more educated we get, and the more choices we have, more of us are likely to decide that we want to devote ourselves to other tasks (like writing a blog) than raising a child. I understand it's the minority choice. I just want it to be as respected as the majority choice.

Now back to the facts: The report shows an overall decline in U.S. fertility. But don't worry about depletion of the species, because while U.S. fertility is dropping, the U.S. population is ballooning upward, mainly because of increased immigration and the large families immigrant women tend to have.

Census data reveal 20 percent of American women between the ages of 40 and 44 have no children, twice the number of 30 years ago. Women in that age range who do have children have just fewer than two (1.9) on average, down from just more than three (3.1) in 1976.

Women's decisions to pursue higher education and lofty careers before having children may also be driving other changes in fertility. While women with advanced or professional degrees are more likely to be child-free, they also have the current highest birthrate (67 births for every 1,000 women) of all educational levels. But current fertility refers to the rate at which women had children in the year before the survey was taken. Women with advanced degrees also have the lowest lifetime fertility rate. One Census Bureau official told me that means highly educated women that year were more likely to get out of school and have a baby right away. They still have the lowest lifetime fertility rate of any group of women.

By Bonnie Erbe