But for an increasing number of couples, what follows isn't necessarily the baby and carriage. American Demographics says an estimated 24 million married couples in America didn't have children in 1995. The magazine predicts there will be 30 million child-free couples by 2010.
It's a trend that British Anglican Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali criticized earlier this year. "In an age of excessive self-regard and encouragement on every side to the new religion of 'me,' it's important for the church to continue saying that having children and their nurture is a basic good of marriage and not an optional extra," he says.
The child-free trend has been linked to increased career choices for women, effective birth control, the high cost of raising a child and concern for overpopulation and the environment. Nonparents have formed two organizations, the ChildFree Network and No Kidding! Some couples have a militant dislike for children, using an alphabet of acronyms to describe "breeders" and their "spawn" such as SITCOM (Single Income Two Children Oppressive Mortgage).
But many child-free couples say they don't have a problem with other people's kids — they just don't want their own. Some never had maternal or paternal feelings; others don't believe they would make good parents.
Don Browning, co-author of From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate, says children have been an essential part of marriage since early times. "The farther you go back into history, the more children are central to the family," he says. But today, he says, childrearing often takes a back seat to elements such as friendship and unity within a marriage.
Browning says Nazir-Ali's comments "challenge us to say it can't be a decision of personal convenience." But he adds, "There's always been room within Christianity for special vocations not including children. But to kick children all the way out of your consideration, you have to have a pretty overriding personal vocation."
© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers