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‘Eco-anxiety’ affecting people's reproductive choices

A first-of-its kind study has found that eco-anxiety, or climate-change related concern, is making people rethink their reproductive choices—even making them forego having children

A new study shows that there is a complex and intricate relationship between climate change and reproductive choices.
A new study shows that there is a complex and intricate relationship between climate change and reproductive choices. (Pexels)

A new study has found that people are choosing to forego having children or choosing to have fewer children due to climate change-related concerns. This “eco-anxiety” about an uncertain future is now making many people reconsider their reproductive choices. Eco-anxiety is mental stress or anxiety associated with worsening environmental conditions, and anxiety in response to the global ecological crisis.

The study, Climate change, mental health, and reproductive decision-making: A systematic review, led by researchers from University College London (UCL), is the first systematic review to explore how and why climate change-related concerns could be affecting reproductive decision-making, a press statement reveals. 

Also read: How children are engaging in climate action through poetry and theatre

For the study, the researchers reviewed 13 studies, involving 10,788 participants, which were conducted between 2012 and 2022, primarily in countries such as the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and various European countries. The findings, published in PLOS Climate, showed that climate change concerns were usually associated with less positive attitudes towards reproduction.

The researchers identified four key factors: uncertainty about the future of an unborn child, environmentalist views centred on overpopulation and overconsumption, meeting family subsistence needs, and political sentiments.

In the last decade, with the climate crisis affecting people across the world, ethical concerns about the quality of life that children might have in the future have emerged. This has become a key reason for many couples not to have children. In this analysis, 12 out of 13 studies indicated that stronger concerns about climate change were associated with a desire for fewer children, or none, the statement explained.

“Our first-of-its-kind study shows that there is a complex and intricate relationship between climate change and reproductive choices, with differences noted both within and between countries across the world,” said lead author, Hope Dillarstone in the statement. 

It’s not just that people are concerned about their children’s future in a climate-changed environment, but they are also considering the impact of having children on the environment, Dillarstone added. 

These concerns were also highlighted in a study published by HP in June. The study, consisting of parents in India, Mexico, Singapore, United Kingdom and United States, found that 91% of parents are concerned about the climate crisis, leading to changes that are reshaping their lives. Notably, 53% said that it impacted their perspective about having more children.  

Researchers of the UCL study emphasise that the findings show that understanding how climate change is affecting people may be important for shaping public policy.  They also show a need for collaboration among policymakers to incorporate local-level environmental concerns within national and international climate change, mental health and sexual and reproductive health policies, the statement explained. 

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