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Climate change may play a role in consumers' decision to have kids

Experts say uncertainty about the environment is may influence some would-be parents

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Photo (c) Catherine Falls Commercial - Getty Images
Recent studies have highlighted how climate change can affect everything from mental and physical health to fertility and even the economy. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona shows that climate change may also impact consumers’ decision to have kids. 

According to the team’s findings, the repercussions of rising global temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions, and air pollution have led many consumers to second guess what the future of the planet will look like; this uncertainty has been added to a growing list of considerations when consumers contemplate having children. 

“For many people, the question of whether to have children or not is one of the biggest they will face in their lives,” said researcher Sabrina Helm. “If you are worried about what the future will look like because of climate change, obviously it will impact how you view this very important decision in your life.” 

What factors into decision-making? 

To better understand how the state of the environment factored into consumers’ decisions about having kids, the researchers conducted a two-part study. In the first part, the team went right to the source: they analyzed comments from an online article that discussed the ways that climate change has emerged as a major consideration in having children. In the second part of the study, the researchers interviewed participants between the ages of 18 and 35 to gain insight into their beliefs and decision-making processes. 

Ultimately, the researchers identified three major factors that factored into the participants’ thoughts on having kids: uncertainty about the future, overconsumption, and overpopulation. 

Many of the participants expressed fear about what the world will look like if climate change isn’t addressed soon, and they feel a sense of responsibility to not burden future generations with these issues. Participants also shared that they didn’t want their future kids to be part of the problem; because of how rapidly the environment is changing, more consumption of resources could put essentials like water at a greater deficit. Lastly, the group shared concerns about having kids because of the current rapid population growth; however, they did find a sustainable loophole. 

“Adoption was seen as the low-carbon alternative,” explained Helm. 

The researchers explained that many of the participants expressed feelings of anxiety and general worry about the future of the environment, and those worries factored into their decisions about potentially having children. To complicate things even further, many participants said they struggle to share these feelings with those closest to them. 

“It’s still a bit taboo to even talk about this -- about how worried they are -- in an environment where there are still people who deny climate change,” said Helm. “I think what’s been lacking is the opportunity to talk about it and hear other people’s voices. Maybe this research will help.” 

Is there hope for the future?

Not all of the participants’ responses about the future and the possibility of having kids were rooted in uncertainty or fear. The researchers found that some people in the group were hopeful that a future generation could tackle the issues of climate change that we’re currently struggling with.

“Many people are now severely affected in terms of mental health with regard to climate change concerns,” Helm said. “Then you add this very important decision about having kids, which very few take lightly, and this is an important topic from a public health perspective. It all ties into this bigger topic of how climate change affects people beyond the immediate effect of weather phenomena.” 

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