When I woke up on a recent morning to a New York City sky hazy with smoke from raging wildfires some 3,000 miles away, I considered for the first time whether this might be the reason I decide not to have children. As I scrolled through photos of the uncanny orange skies on the West Coast, the question continued to nag at me, mixing with the absolute terror I felt at seeing such a concrete example of humanity’s role in destroying the planet. There it was: climate dread.
We’ve known for a while now that these existential concerns are often related to planning for children. But a new study gives a better idea of just how many people are factoring climate change into their plans to have children or not–and how it stacks up against the other factors that have can shape this decision.
According to recent polling from Morning Consult, the answer is “more than you probably think” and, for some people, “pretty high.” Eleven percent of adults in the United States say climate change is a “major reason” they don’t have children right now, while 15 percent say it’s only a minor one.
When the responses are sorted by gender, the data is pretty evenly distributed: Men and women had very similar responses to this question, with 10 percent of men considering it a “major reason” and 11 percent of women saying the same. But when other identity categories like race, age, political orientation and geographic location come into play, the disparities among different groups become stark.
For example, Black and Hispanic people who participated in the survey were much more likely to report that climate change factored into their decision not to have children than white people, as were people in the South and West versus those who live in the Northeast or Midwest. And many more millennials and zoomers cited climate change as a reason they’re currently childless than did Gen Xers and Boomers. In other words, those who are already disproportionately affected by climate change and stand to see many of the worst effects in their lifetimes are thinking about it the most.
Climate change was still one of the least-cited reasons people reported for not having children, ranking behind economic and political concerns, and career considerations. But all told, one in four childless adults in the study said climate change had played some role in their reproductive decisions. Unless our government takes drastic action to address the climate crisis, it’s likely this number will only grow, and the haze—literal and metaphorical—hanging over people’s private deliberations about whether to have children will only loom larger.