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Childless By Choice

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Jhon Arbelaez-Novak (left) with his husband Mark (right)

Relatives and friends all want him to start a family. But Jhon Arbelaez-Novak has his reasons to remain childless by choice.

I come from a big Latino family. My father is one of twelve; my mother one of thirteen. I have dozens of cousins, many with multiple children. When my siblings had children of their own, I was the last to remain childless.

When I visit family, one of the first questions is, “When are you having children?” Or I’m told, “You need to have a kid, you’re already married and getting old.” In one unfortunate instance, I was told I was selfish, and that all I wanted to do was travel. As painful as that comment was, it is true that not having a child has given me freedom to do what I want in comparison to others. I have completed an advanced degree, grown my career, and explored the world. But selfishness is not the reason I chose to remain childless.

The impact a single person has on the environment can be extreme, depending on lifestyle. A child born in the developed world requires resources - diapers, toys, and clothes, items often disposable by design. The raw materials such as cotton, plastics, and minerals often come from places where environmental regulation and human rights are lax. This adds to a tremendous strain on both natural and human resources. Some parents are better able to purchase materials that don’t have as much impact. However, not everyone is as fortunate.

The impacts of human induced climate change will only get worse. We all must make changes to protect our world. Studies have shown the biggest impact one person can have is not to have children. An Oregon State University study found that not having a child, or having one less child per family, amounts to more of an environmental impact than all other lifestyle changes combined, including not owning a car, eating a plant-based diet, or powering your home with green energy.


In my early 20s, I made a conscious decision not to have children. I’m not selfish, and there’s nothing missing from my life. I respect people who do choose to have children. But criticisms from family, friends, or even strangers are hurtful and disrespectful. I can only hope that one day they will understand why I choose not to have children.

With a Perspective, I’m Jhon Arbelaez-Novak.

Jhon Arbelaez-Novak is an environmental analyst at the Lawrence Lilvermore National Laboratories and lives in Walnut Creek.

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