Amid a chaotic backdrop, a growing number of women are making personal decisions to delay – or forgo – “traditional” family life. (Credit: PXHere)

When she envisions her future, Tori Mistick doesn’t see kids.

“I’ve been single by choice for several years. I’m also childfree by choice, and do not plan to have kids in the future,” the 34-year-old founder of pet media site Wear Wag Repeat says. “Climate change and our society are big reasons why I would not want to bring additional people into this world.” 

Jenny Joslin, co-founder and CEO of High Herstory, a women’s-focused cannabis media company, is on the same page. She’s currently in a relationship, but she’s also very much focused on the growth of her company, which she refers to as her “baby.” 

“I was never the kind of woman to dream about getting married and having a family. I sometimes barely have the time to take care of myself — how could I take care of children?” she says. And “climate change definitely has confirmed my decision to not have children. It seems irresponsible to bring more humans into this world.”

Few could blame them for their hesitance, especially in the wake of the United Nations’ bleakest climate report to date — which concludes that the deady and irreversible effects of global warming are already here. “We can expect a significant jump in extreme weather over the next 20 or 30 years,” Piers Forster, a climate scientist at the University of Leeds who contributed to the August 2021 report, told The New York Times. “Things are unfortunately likely to get worse than they are today.”

For younger women, the devastating environmental news is merely part of what could best be described as a parade of crises — one that also includes the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, complete with worrying case surges sparked by the more transmissible Delta variant, significant societal unrest, and the recent, disastrous end to a decades-long war in Afghanistan.

Amid this chaotic backdrop — and with a continued lack of social safety nets for women and parents in particular — a growing number of women like Mistick and Joslin are making personal decisions that are contributing to rapidly declining marriage and birth rates in the United States. 

In fact, according to the CDC, birth rates are at their lowest point in 35 years.

Grim Realities

It’s not just about climate change. The pandemic has also highlighted challenges that are largely unique to mothers — and none of which are new. 

Prior to the spread of Covid-19, women already shouldered the bulk of caregiving and housekeeping responsibilities. When schools and daycares were shuttered in light of the coronavirus crisis, the situation simply became even less balanced. It’s a problem experts expect will persist even when we start to recover from the pandemic — especially since childcare continues to be unaffordable for the majority of Americans.

The obstacles faced by moms, especially those who work, are on the minds of women like Alexis Bowen, the 33-year-old co-founder of Elsewhere, a Savannah, Georgia, travel company.

“Despite the fact that societal standards have changed and it is acceptable for women to balance a career and children, I still believe the greatest sacrifice lies with women,” she says. “I’m at the age where I should be thinking of having kids, but balancing a work schedule that’s all-encompassing with kids — also all-encompassing — sounds impossible to handle at the moment.”

Policy prescriptions like the Marshall Plan for Moms would help some who feel hamstrung by financial circumstances and systemic imbalances, but until something is actually enacted — or until political, economic and ecological chaos wanes overall — the situation doesn’t seem likely to change. 

The drain of working motherhood, especially in 2021, is part of why Eva Keller, founder of food and travel resource Discovering Hidden Gems, won’t be having kids. “Growing up, I always knew I never wanted to have my own children — not just because of what it would do to my body, but just the daily exhaustion that comes with raising children,” she says. “I don’t have the energy for it, especially now running my own business and maintaining my marriage.”

Keller adores children, she clarifies — “I just value my sleep and free time too much to make the commitment to being a mom.”

Finding Power in Chaos

Women’s decisions to shy away from family living don’t necessarily go over well with their families, friends or religious communities. The widely held societal view that women should have children may be less prevalent, but it certainly hasn’t disappeared. 

Mitali Saxena, founder of clothing subscription service Fashom, has even had to hear it in pitch meetings from VCs. “Men don’t generally get the questions of ‘When do you have a chance to spend with your partner?’ or ‘When are you going to set aside some time to start a family?’” she says. “The list goes on and on but, despite it being 2021, the line of questioning women seem to receive first and foremost is always so heavily family-centric.”

For some, pushing past those pressures to create lives that feel “right” to them, regardless of the reason, can be liberating. Entrepreneur Jennifer Estevez certainly feels that exercising her autonomy has given her a sense of freedom — even if she’s taking a different direction than some of the other women we spoke with. 

As the founder of marketing firm OMvino, and co-founder of online wine club Palate Club, the San Francisco serial entrepreneur had previously been content with a work-centric life. But her views are evolving as professional burnout sets in. “I recently decided that I want kids. But I’m not in a hurry. I’ll freeze some eggs if I need, or I’ll adopt if I need more time than nature allows me,” she says. 

Estevez adds, “It’s great to live in the modern world, where I have choices.”

Indeed, some women say they’re even embracing the uncertainty of it all, and the ability to not have to make up their minds — which, of course, comes thanks in no small part to women from previous generations who fought for such opportunities. 

Michelle Halpern, the 34-year-old CEO and owner of online travel publication Live Like It’s the Weekend, proudly describes herself as “not a 5-year-plan woman,” and is unapologetic about not yearning for family life. She isn’t altogether opposed to the idea — but when it comes to getting married and having kids, “I will do it on my time, and nobody else’s.”