Climate change concerns ‘putting people off having children’

Concerns range from ethical and environmental to political.

Nilima Marshall
Thursday 09 November 2023 19:00 GMT
People are beginning to reconsider their reproductive decisions due to complex concerns about climate change (Owen Humphreys/PA)
People are beginning to reconsider their reproductive decisions due to complex concerns about climate change (Owen Humphreys/PA)

Concerns about climate change are putting many people off the idea of having children, a review has found.

Research published in the journal Plos Climate involving nearly 11,000 people has revealed worries over uncertainty about the future of an unborn child, being able to provide for them, as well as concerns that having children would contribute to overpopulation and overconsumption.

Political sentiment – such as refusal to have children until systemic change was enacted – was also reported to be a motivating factor.

Lead author Hope Dillarstone, a former student at the UCL Institute for Global Health, said: “Recent media attention has been paid to a growing number of individuals factoring their concerns about climate change into their childbearing plans.

“However, we were concerned that public discourse may have oversimplified this relationship.

“Our first-of-its-kind study shows that there is a complex and intricate relationship between climate change and reproductive choices, with differences noted both within and between countries across the world.

There is a complex and intricate relationship between climate change and reproductive choices, with differences noted both within and between countries across the world

Hope Dillarstone

“Our analysis shows that not only are many people concerned about their child’s welfare growing up in a world of uncertainty, but that they are also considering the impact of having children on the environment, their family’s ability to subsist, and their politics.”

In a first systematic review exploring the impact of climate change-related concerns on the decision to have children, the researchers looked at 13 studies involving 10,788 people from countries such as the US, Canada, New Zealand and various European nations including the UK.

They found the concerns were associated with a desire or intent for fewer or no children.

Conversely, in countries like Zambia, people reported being in favour of having more children because they were concerned about their ability to support their family without the household labour provided by additional offspring.

Ms Dillarstone added: “Understanding why some people choose to adjust their reproductive decisions as a result of climate change may prove instrumental for shaping public policy, showing a need for collaboration among policymakers to incorporate local-level environmental concerns within national and international climate change, mental health and sexual and reproductive health policies.”

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