Birth Strike? How Are Environmental Concerns Associated with Young Adults’ Fertility Intentions?

Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton

Young people are calling for greater action against environmental destruction and climate change. At the same time, birth rates to young adults have plummeted, raising the possibility that the two could be inter-linked. For activists engaged in the Birth Strike movement the two are clearly linked, with individuals declaring that they will remain childfree until the ‘climate emergency’ has been resolved. What we do not know is whether, in the general population, increasing concerns about climate change and sustainability are influencing intended family size. Evidence from the US 1970s fertility bust following increased awareness of rapid population growth suggests this is possible (Preston, 1986). This paper contributes to our understanding of whether attitudes to the environment and environmental behaviours are associated with fertility intentions today in the UK. The paper focuses on men and women aged 18-29 interviewed in the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study. In bivariate analyses no relationship is found between environmental concerns/behaviour and intentions to remain childfree. This is because there is a strong educational gradient in childbearing intentions (with those least educated having the greatest intention to remain childfree) and in environmental concerns (those least educated tend to have the largest carbon footprint). In multinomial logistic regression analyses of intended family size we find attitudes towards climate change and the environment have no systematic relationship with intended family size. However, environmentally friendly behaviour associated with intentions to remain childfree and lower intentions to have three or four children. This association is particularly strong for graduates.

Presented in Session 6: Fertility at times of crisis: from economic recession to climate change