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Is climate change a factor in fertility decisions? TL;DR: for many, yes

Is climate change a factor in fertility decisions? TL;DR: for many, yes

5 min read

Lately, climate change has been coming up more and more in conversations around fertility decisions in the online Modern Community — our judgment-free space for opening up about fertility (or whatever's on your mind) with like-minded people and fertility experts. So, we decided to survey 2,800+ people with ovaries to understand how climate change-related factors are (or aren't!) shaping plans for kids.

Turns out, more than half of our respondents are considering having fewer kids or are reconsidering kids altogether because of issues related to climate change. Per the CDC’s list of climate effects on health, these issues may include:

  • Pollution and clean air problems
  • Increased frequency and severity of wildfires
  • Increased frequency of hurricanes, severe storms, and flooding
  • Scarcity of natural resources, like clean water, agricultural output, and liveable land
  • Increased waterborne illnesses, infectious diseases, and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases

The top factor our respondents cited for thinking about having fewer (or not having) kids was concern about the world their children will inherit. People also reported exploring different ways of starting — and raising — families as a result of climate change: About 1 in 4 respondents said they’re considering adoption, and nearly 1 in 3 said they’re considering moving to a new city or state that’s less impacted by climate change. (Climate change will likely affect areas with higher average temperatures, sea levels, and more vulnerability to natural disasters the most.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, respondents in different regions had different answers regarding climate change’s impact on their fertility decisions. While 30% of all respondents said they’re considering moving to a new city or state before having kids, this stat jumped up to 50% for respondents in New Orleans, 48% for respondents in Los Angeles, and 45% for respondents in San Francisco.

Of all the regional areas, those in Austin, New York City, and the Denver/Boulder area were most likely to report that they were reconsidering kids due to the world their child will inherit due to the impacts of climate change — with Austin holding the highest percentage of respondents.

Respondents in NYC were also most likely to be considering adoption, with 32% reporting this possibility as compared to 26% of national respondents.

How are Modern Community members thinking about planning for kids in the context of climate change?

“Climate change and its impact on the decision to have children is this unspoken thing that people often aren’t acknowledging. My husband and I have been struggling with the question for over a year, and we don’t always agree. It feels more severe than political crises that have happened in previous generations. This isn’t just our generation’s Cold War; it’s bigger than that. Our main fear is a shortage of resources and inability to protect our children from bad things that are coming, and we’re trying to balance our hope for mitigation with how much of an ‘anxiety passion’ this has become.” — Amanda, Seattle

“I hope things will get better and that we'll achieve the aggressive climate change policy we need, but I’m also just prepared to have dogs. My current community is affluent enough to have clean water, AC, and air filtration, but these things will become luxuries if we continue depleting resources as we are. I don’t know if I’ll be able to provide my children with those luxuries, or make sure my kids have as good a planet to enjoy as I did. My parents don’t seem to fully care or understand this issue as much as I think they should, but I’m very upfront about it with my partners. If I wanted to pursue the journey of having kids, I would strongly consider moving to a more environmentally conscious place -- even to a different country.” — Bailey, Sacramento

What can we learn from this data and these perspectives?

These insights demonstrate two overarching themes that continue to pop up in our research: there's no universal path to having kids, and societal issues can play a major role in how *all* of us navigate fertility decisions. In past research, we've seen an uptick in the number of people exploring different approaches to parenthood (having kids later or on their own) — and learned that while money factors into many people's decisions around kids, people across all salary brackets are choosing to delay parenthood for a variety of reasons (including career, travel, relationships). Put simply, there's always something that can make us revisit (and potentially even change) our life plans.

It's becoming more and more clear that there's no "right" time or path to kids. When there's so much that's unknown about the future, a supportive community where you can talk things out can really help. In a judgment-free online space like our Modern Community, members open up about the ever-growing list of reasons why it’s hard to navigate fertility decisions — from money and careers to finding the right partner to the realities of modern life. Asking questions and hearing about other people's experiences can help you unpack the complexities and come to the right decisions for you.

Want to dive deeper into the intersection of fertility and climate change?

We’re hosting a live Q&A session on climate change and fertility decisions with Dr. Jane van Dis (OB-GYN, co-founder and CEO of Equity Quotient, and Modern Fertility medical advisor) and Dr. Jia Hu (principal investigator at the Hu Lab, associate professor and associate director at the School of Natural Resources and Environment at University of Arizona, and affiliate faculty at the Laboratory of Tree Ring Research). In this free community event, our experts will share info and answer questions about planning for kids in the context of a changing climate.

RSVP here for the live Q&A! You'll snag your spot by creating a free account to join our community.


Methodology
Modern Fertility conducted this survey in October and November of 2021, surveying 2804 people with ovaries. The survey was a cross-sectional survey designed to uncover the impacts of climate change on family planning decisions, including sentiments on adoption, relocation, having fewer children or none at all, and more. A cross-sectional survey means that the data were gathered at a single point in time and there were no no attempts to change or alter beliefs in any way during data collection and analysis.

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Reina Pomeroy, MSW, PCC

Reina manages the Modern Women Community at Modern Fertility. She uses her MSW and coaching experiences to build thriving communities and tell women's stories.

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