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Political Confessional: ‘I Think It’s Immoral To Have Children, Especially More Than One’

Welcome to Political Confessional, a column about the views that Americans are scared to share with their friends and neighbors. If you have a political belief that you’re willing to share with us, fill out this form — we might get in touch.

First up, Emily, a 28-year-old white woman who lives in Spokane, Washington, and works in the hospitality industry. When Emily first got in touch she wrote,I think it’s immoral to have children, especially more than one (mostly because of climate change).”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Clare Malone: How did you come to the belief that having children was immoral?

Emily: Basically, I’ve never really wanted kids of my own, but I come from a pretty large family.

I’m also very, very interested in the sciences. I had a general sense of anxiety about climate change. I canvassed with a group, and I found all the groups I could — Physicians for Social Responsibility, and then some groups on Reddit. There’s a group on a subreddit of people who were very willing to share that they felt like having kids was one of the worst things.

I would still say we have a biological imperative to reproduce, so I don’t hold it against people that they want to have kids. I think politically in the last few years I’ve fallen more toward, like, China had a one-child policy. That’s a political view I could get behind. I understand people’s desires but I would say over the last four or five years as my friends have started having kids, I more and more think, ‘Why are you doing this?’

Clare Malone: So you would adopt and raise a kid, but you think having a biological child is immoral?

Emily: In some ways I really do. We have physical proof that we cause a lot of harm to the planet, and I think the statistics show an imperative to reduce the footprint of our population, which has grown so fast. I think that having children can be immoral for a lot of reasons. I think a lot of people aren’t ready or fit to have kids. And also people who I talk to who want to have kids, they don’t have a good reason. I’d also consider myself a nihilist. I don’t think there’s a moral imperative to have children.

Clare Malone: Why do you think you’re a nihilist?

Emily: I just see less and less purpose to why we do what we do. And I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a strict nihilist. All I see these days is that we’re just causing a lot of destruction. And there are people who are concerned about it, there are plenty of good people. But in terms of, what is our purpose here? It seems to be a very destructive one at this time.

Clare Malone: Do you see any good in the world?

Emily: Oh, absolutely. Pursuing medicine, I’ve been volunteering in an ER, and oh my god, the nurses there are the most incredible people I’ve met. I meet great people every day. In general, the average person is more good than bad. I don’t believe in an inherent badness in people. But we just live in a society where people are pushed to be greedy, and I think greed pushes us to do what we do, and we’re having a negative impact.

Clare Malone: Who have you shared this no-biological-children opinion with?

Emily: I do a podcast with some friends and we talked about having kids at one point. I share it as a personal belief, I wouldn’t share it with anyone as a political belief, because it’s got a lot of holes in it. The only country I’ve heard of that ever practiced something like this was China with the one-child policy. I know it had some extremely detrimental effects, like people getting rid of their female children.

Clare Malone: What do you think it is about not wanting to give birth? Is it something you’re afraid of? Is it just the climate change threat?

Emily: Climate change is a huge piece of it. We also have a pretty bad history of severe depression in my family, which makes a lot of us not want to pass on our genes. And the idea of being female in a world where women have kids and then they drop out of the workforce or they make less money — women are treated differently once they have kids. Up until then, you have all the same opportunities that any man would. Once you have kids, you fit into a different category.

Clare Malone: Don’t you feel like you’ll be treated differently if you decide not to have kids, though?

Emily: Even telling people you don’t want kids, they treat you a certain way. I’ve talked to people where I mention not wanting to have kids and a guy said, ‘That’s very selfish of you.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t understand why it’s not selfish for you to have children.’

Clare Malone: How would you identify yourself politically?

Emily: Extremely liberal. I’m registered as a Democrat so I can caucus. I wouldn’t consider myself a Democrat, though. I don’t agree with a lot of the party stances. The whole liberal elite thing, I actually get where people are coming from with that.

Clare Malone: If you shared this belief with other extremely liberal people, how do you think they’d respond?

Emily: I fall into the millennial generation, and I think a lot of people I’ve talked to in this generation feel the same way. I don’t think I’d get a lot of support from people thinking that it’s a solution for more or less everyone. I think there’s a lot of reasons to limit the number of kids people are allowed to have if they’re clearly incapable of being a parent. But I think that’s an extremely unpopular opinion. I think I’d get a lot of negative feedback if I shared that with people.

Clare Malone: Do you think people’s responses have to do with social class? Would a well-educated professional have a less positive reaction to your ‘no biological kids’ stance?

Emily: Yes, I do. I think a lot of people who have the financial capability and less of the worry think that having kids is great.

Clare Malone: How would you describe your social class growing up?

Emily: Middle class. My mom came from a poverty-line background so she raised us as if we were very low middle class and then I filled out the FAFSA and found that wasn’t the case!

Clare Malone: What about your friend group now?

Emily: My boyfriend is from a middle-class family. I’m from a very small town, and all of my friends are from small towns, but we ended up in Spokane. A lot of them came from maybe barely fitting into the middle class.

Clare Malone: You said some of your thinking about all this started when your friends started having kids. Can you walk me through your mindset back then?

Emily: I used to work at a diner in this extremely small town and I was still religious at that point, and I got this girl hired because we were in bible study together. She started having kids at like 19 and she’s having her fourth at age 26. She’s worked on and off while having kids, but her husband hasn’t ever had a super stable job; both of them are high school educated. She was also valedictorian of her school. And I’m like, ‘Why wouldn’t you go to college?’ That really frustrated me. My best friend chose not to go to college. She was also valedictorian, also from the same small town, also religious. None of them ever pursued their educations, they all depend on their husbands for income, even though, this first friend, I hate to say this, but she’s so much smarter than her husband. I hate to say that because I don’t want to be a snob about people’s intelligence. But she could support the whole family, but she’s just at home having kids. To me, that just seems like a waste.

Clare Malone: Do children hold you back from climbing the socioeconomic ladder?

Emily: I 100 percent believe that.

Clare Malone: Do you like kids?

Emily: I love kids, when they’re behaving …

Clare Malone: We’re probably not going to have a one-child policy in America. What’s the next reasonable policy to get to your goal of population control?

Emily: Universal reproductive health care. I think most women, when given the option, would choose birth control until they’re in a better place to have kids.

Clare Malone: Do you stigmatize people with big families?

Emily: I’m sure if you asked someone else they might have a different answer — I feel I only do that when they’re instilling really obnoxious beliefs. I come from a large family. I actually kind of love large families, but I think I stigmatize people from big families who are not super well educated and from rural conservative Christian towns.

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Clare Malone is a former senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.