Not having children

A collection of reading on choosing not to have children.


Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids (Picador, 2015) is a collection of essays, all written by literary types, edited by Meghan Daum. It does what the subtitle says, though the range of perspectives is narrower than it might have been.

There’s a thoughtful review of Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed by Jessica Olin in the London Review of Books. Like most LRB reviews, it’s really an essay on the topic.

The seminal book arguing that it’s better not to have children is David Benetar’s Better Never to Have Been: The Harms of Coming into Existence (Oxford, 2006). It’s both a serious work of consequentialist philosophy and an accessible and compelling read.


In 2020 The Guardian ran a whole series on not having children.

The same year The Atlantic published an essay by Samhita Mukhopadhyay entitled One Legacy of the Pandemic May Be Less Judgment of the Child-Free’. The Atlantics done a bit on this topic before and since, too, most recently Gail Cornwall’s The Two Reasons Parents Regret Having Kids’.


Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin (Serpent’s Tail, 2003) is a literary page-turner that explores ideas about not having children. Shriver also wrote one of the essays in Selfish, Shallow, and Self-absorbed (above). You may not share her politics, but she’s a bloody good writer.

Sheila Heti’s Motherhood (Vintage, 2019), ostensibly a novel but something of a memoir, is a meditation on the decision not to have a child. Agonised, intellectual, feminist, beautifully-written. Interesting reviews and commentary available online, too.

Guadalupe Nettel’s Still Born (translated by Rosalind Harvey, Fitzcarraldo, 2022) is reviewed in the London Review of Books by Sarah Resnik here.


For something succinct and hilarious, there’s Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse.


Wikipedia has a substantial page called Voluntary childlessness.