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Childfree in America 

Oh, baby! Is this a fast-growing, misunderstood movement that has taken root in Charlotte -- or just a bunch of mean ol' kid haters spreading their vitriol?

Notorious British officer "Bloody" Banastre Tarleton once dubbed Charlotte the Hornet's Nest because of the city's inexhaustible, pestering Revolutionary War-era troops. Today, the nickname is as relevant as ever -- only the hornets aren't soldiers this time.

To some Charlotteans, today's nuisances are even more inexhaustible and pestering than the flying, stinging variety. They're everywhere, seemingly inescapable: swarming through malls and coffee shops, buzzing by in those three-wheeled strollers that hog the sidewalks, popping up on every TV commercial, blocking your path at every turn, infecting your every move.

Kids.

It's enough to make your blood run cold -- if you're childfree. Not childless, mind you, but childfree, meaning folks who have chosen never to have kids. They prefer the term to childless, which implies some sort of loss or incompleteness.

Deciding not to bear the fruit of your loins is nothing new, but within the last five years the childfree community has begun to band together, largely through online support groups. The more vocal members of the community have drawn headlines with their sometimes scathing diatribes against "ankle biters," yet the range of childfree people is as varied as the range of those who choose to parent. Childfree people run the gamut from caring, intelligent individuals to petty assholes.

Who are these people? What do they want? And what's a "crotch dropping"?

Kidcentric culture

It's unclear when the term "childfree" came into being, but it gained popularity in the 1990s via the Childfree Network, one of the first organizations devoted to this growing segment of the population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control's 2002 survey, "Fertility, Family Planning and Reproductive Health of US," just saying no to kids is becoming a more popular option. Among the 61.6 million women aged 15 to 44 in 2002, 6.2 percent were voluntarily childless, up from 4.9 percent in 1982. Furthermore, the percentage of childless women who expect to have one child in their lifetimes (13 percent) was down by almost half what it was in 1995 (25 percent).

Reasons for choosing this lifestyle can range from personal to pecuniary. In a recent study conducted by economist Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia, a woman in her 20s can expect to increase her lifetime wages by 10 percent for each year she delays giving birth.

The Washington Post recently reported the results of a survey published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior which found parents across the board to be more depressed than childless adults, from parents with newborns all the way up to empty nesters.

Who are the voluntarily childless? Numerous research studies have revealed that most couples who choose not to reproduce are well-educated, are employed in a professional field, have high incomes, are generally white, live in urban areas and are less religious than their child-bearing counterparts.

Childfree couples, or DINKs (Double Income No Kids), say they endure severe pressure from friends, family and co-workers, and the wrath of "breeders" who often paint the childfree as selfish, irresponsible people; hedonistic party animals; or simply young people "going through a phase."

So, the childfree have banded together for mutual support. The Web has become a haven, providing a place for them to meet, vent and socialize. The word "childfree" nets more than 226,000 hits on Google, and there are dozens of childfree message boards and e-mail lists, from national to regional.

The Web site childfree.net states its mission right up front: "We choose to call ourselves 'childfree' rather than 'childless,' because we feel the term 'childless' implies that we're missing something we want -- and we aren't. We consider ourselves childfree -- free of the loss of personal freedom, money, time and energy that having children requires ... being childfree-by-choice is rather frowned upon by our kidcentric society, finding information (or links to information) is difficult.

"Most of us are almost afraid to ask someone who might know where we can find what we're looking for ... the disapproving stares and cries of 'How can you not want children?!' often send us into a form of 'hiding.' We feel like freaks and don't realize exactly how many of us and exactly how much information is actually out there. This site attempts to remedy that problem."

Another organization, No Kidding (nokidding.net), is a nationwide, nonprofit social club for childfree adults. Since its inception in 1984 in Vancouver, British Columbia, the group has grown to 92 chapters in 37 US states and five other countries, including Australia, the Ivory Coast and South Korea. The organization will hold an international convention in Toronto next June.

The idea to start No Kidding conventions came from the Charlotte chapter's founder, 39-year-old Candy Lake, of Indian Trail. She helped plan the first two conventions in the adult-friendly cities of Las Vegas and New Orleans.

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