Don't call us childless, call us child-free: the Bridget Jones generation fights back

Women are increasingly comfortable with not having children - and demanding better treatment at work and play. Sophie Goodchild and Nicholas Pyke report
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The Independent Online

Dismissed as insane in the 19th century and "unnatural" in the 20th, women who choose to remain childless have long been a derided minority. But a new breed of British women is determined to overthrow generations of prejudice by openly advocating a child-free existence.

Dismissed as insane in the 19th century and "unnatural" in the 20th, women who choose to remain childless have long been a derided minority. But a new breed of British women is determined to overthrow generations of prejudice by openly advocating a child-free existence.

The "contrasexual", who has no interest in settling down but instead hopes to have at least three successful careers, was identified last week by researchers at the Centre for Future Studies. Now, groundbreaking analysis from the London School of Economics suggests that two-thirds of young British women are content to go through life without bearing children.

US-inspired groups for the childless are springing up in Britain for the first time, demanding a better deal for "child-free" couples at work and in society. Kidding Aside (the British Childfree Association) is stepping up its pressure on ministers to ensure that family-friendly policies and flexible working schemes do not put additional pressure on the childless. Membership of the largely internet-based group has risen from seven to several hundred in the four years since its formation. Members range from supermarket workers to professors. On internet sites such as Childfree and Childless by Choice, non-parents share views and buy merchandise with the slogan Bored With Babies. And in January, No Kidding, an international social club for people who do not want children, will be opening a new "chapter" in Cambridge.

Government figures have already shown that one-fifth of British women are likely to remain childless, the highest proportion in Western Europe. This is particularly the case among educated, professional women.

Unpublished data from the Office for National Statistics suggest that as many as half the British women in senior managerial posts have no offspring. The new LSE analysis shows that half of all British women now say that life could be complete without bearing children, twice as many as 50 years ago. According to Dr Catherine Hakim, whose research appears in Key Issues in Women's Work, the proportion is even higher among the young. She described the shift in attitude towards fertility, which affects both men and women, as "a dramatic change".

The "child-free" are now a growing social group, with the majority of such women in their thirties. They have, for different reasons, rejected the job description that goes with parenting - loss of freedom, reduced career prospects and poor quality of life.

Some experts predict that the level of childlessness may have reached 25 per cent by 2010, due to a range of factors, including choice, failure to find an acceptable partner, and, in a minority of cases, infertility.

Jerry Steinberg, founding father of the Vancouver-based No Kidding social club, claims the UK is the perfect recruiting ground, with a growing sense of disquiet at political favouritism towards families. "I discovered all my friends were getting married and having babies," he said. "They were short of time, energy and money, and while their group of friends was growing through their kids, mine was shrinking."

Jonathan McCalmont, founder of Kidding Aside, said: "Some people grow up knowing they will not have children. As for the continuation of the species, we are six billion and still growing. We are not causing much of a dent. The population is still growing. As for being selfish, we are not like people who have children and cannot look after them."

Additional reporting by Steve Bloomfield

'Children take over your life. It's not something we want'

When Duncan and Lynda Langford married three years ago, becoming parents was not part of their plans. The couple say their babyless future allows them the freedom to pursue their own hobbies and interests.

"Some of my friends say, 'You'll be next' and my mum has asked if we are going to have any," says Duncan Langford, 32. "I thought about having kids when I was younger but neither of us wants them now. My friend has just had a baby and I'm going round to see him to go 'Aah' and have a hug but then to walk away."

In his view, people who do not have children are wrongly stigmatised by society and discriminated against by ministers. "People are getting this benefit and that benefit," says the human resources officer. "They say, 'Who is going to pay for your pension in the future?' And I say 'I am', because there won't be a state pension then.

"We don't live a life of luxury and we're saving the Government hundreds of thousands of pounds."

Lynda Langford, 30, works for the Medical Research Council. "Children take over your life and it's not something I've ever wanted to do.

"We have friends who say we'll be wanting to have children next, especially as I've turned 30, but we don't."

'I just wouldn't want the responsibility'

When Resli Costabell married her husband in 1987 she told him she did not want to have children but concentrate on her career. But he thought he might be able to win her round. When his arguments that she would be more fulfilled as a woman, or a great mother failed, they split up.

"To be fair I told him there was a possibility I would change my mind but also not to count on it," says Resli, now 40.

"I realised that if I stayed with him and had children I might resent him and the children for the rest of my life."

The consultant and business coach, who lives in south London, says she knew from her early teens she didn't want children but still questions herself, especially now her "eggs are getting past their sell-by date".

But she does like children and adores her god-daughter. "I have plenty of children in my life who I enjoy visiting and buying presents for.

"People put more thought into buying a car than having children," she says. "A lot of it is that I don't want the responsibility. I have enough responsibility getting on with my own life.

"Having children would also mean changing my career. If I had children I wouldn't be able to do the travelling part, or I wouldn't be able to give the child the love and attention that it deserves."

'I get less broody as the years pass'

Nesta Fitzgerald, an antiques dealer, always assumed she would have children. After all, by the time her mother was her age, 31, she had had two.

"In my early 20s I thought that when I'm 30 I'll definitely have two. I have been broody since the age of about 22, but I wouldn't want to have children on my own.

"I think you should be in a stable relationship to have children. I don't want to be bringing a child up on my own. I am in a relationship, but it's not at the having-children stage."

But Nesta is certainly not down-hearted. She adds that the older she gets, the less broody she finds herself, and does not think it will be a disaster if children never happen.

"I'm doing a master's in drawing, which I wouldn't be able to do if I had children, and I have loads of hobbies. I'd like to be an illustrator one day and, if I had children, would probably never achieve that ambition.

"You never know how you're going to feel in two or three years' time. I have a full life and I'm more self-confident than I've ever been.

"I'm still expecting to have children, but in the meantime I'm getting on with my life."