The cover of the August 12 edition of Time magazine is meant to be provocative. A trim young man and a matching woman — possibly in their late 20s to early 30s — lie alone on a beach, arms linked, wearing bathing suits, shades, and no visible wedding rings. But the controversial part is the accompanying text: “The Childfree Life: When having it all means not having children.”

Inside, we see that same couple sitting comfortably under a beach umbrella, clinking wine glasses. They are not just “childfree”; they are carefree. To their right, our eyes are drawn to another couple walking along — more like trudging — on the sand. Not fashionably dressed like our “childfree” couple, they have two little girls, and a truckload of decidedly un-chic plastic junk, in tow.

Which life would you choose?

For an increasing number of Americans, the answer is easy. “The birthrate in the U.S. is the lowest in recorded American history,” reports Lauren Sandler of Time. “From 2007 to 2011, … the fertility rate declined 9%. A 2010 Pew Research report showed that childlessness has risen across all racial and ethnic groups, adding up to about 1 in 5 American women who end their childbearing years maternity-free, compared with 1 in 10 in the 1970s.”

Indeed, the magazine reports that many Americans prefer the new term “childfree” over the old term “childless.” The shift in nomenclature reflects a growing cultural conviction that children are more burden than blessing, a cost rather than an investment. The “childfree” interview subjects that Time chooses to highlight in this piece certainly seem to feel that way.

  • Laura Scott, described as “a professional coach, writer, and documentary filmmaker,” says, “My main motive not to have kids was that I loved my life the way it was.”
  • Jena Starkes, a Web designer, states defiantly, “If [motherhood’s] the hardest job in the world, I’m d--- happy I don’t have to do it. You’re not supposed to say that, but it’s true.”
  • Jenna Johnson, a “happily partnered” New Yorker, says, “I get to do all sorts of things: buy an unnecessary beautiful object, plan trips with our aging parents, sleep in, spend a day without speaking to a single person, send care packages to nieces and nephews, enroll in language classes, go out for drinks with a friend on the spur of the moment.”
  • Leah Clouse, a nanny and a children’s art teacher, says, “It takes all of you, and I don’t know that I want to give it all.”

Of course, there are other reasons for the massive plunge in American fertility, some of which Time notes: a sick economy (which always lowers birth and marriage rates); the ramping up of cultural expectations on parents; the rising costs of raising a family and sending children to college; the delaying effects of new opportunities for women in getting an education and landing a job; and the opportunity costs of going off the career track to raise kids.

As a husband and as a father of three, I have felt these pressures against parenthood, too. My chosen field is not a lucrative one — at least not yet! — and Christine and I have been forced to make some difficult financial choices. Despite our children’s requests and occasional protests, we own no smartphones, have resisted the urge to equip them with cellphones, don’t deck them out with all the latest fashions, only allow basic cable into our home, keep debt to an absolute minimum, and so on. Living now off of two modest incomes, we are fortunate, but far from wealthy. The kids’ financial needs definitely put stress on the family budget.