DINK Generation: Are Young Families Choosing Income Over Kids?

DINK families – those with multiple working adults and no children, were once seen as relatively uncommon, though not necessarily unheard of. Today, DINKs are quickly becoming more the rule than the exception. The past few decades have shown a steady shift in American adults bringing in more income sources while having fewer kids.

There are many factors at play in this trend – a continuously shifting economy, progress toward gender equality, and evolving cultural norms around family dynamics, to name a few. But to fully understand what’s happening here, we’ll have to look at the current climate for young families, how the term has evolved, and what DINKs themselves are saying.

What Does DINK Mean?

DINK is an acronym for “Dual Income, No Kids.” The term originated in the 1980s to describe families where two spouses work to earn an income but are not raising children.

Typically, DINK households have greater financial flexibility than their single-income or childrearing peers. This difference may enable them to save more quickly for money goals, increase their lifestyle or travel spending, or combine the two. 

More recently, several variants of the word “DINK” have appeared. Usually, these modified acronyms play on the original by adding more details of the situation, such as:

  • DINKY: Dual Income, No Kids Yet
  • DINKWAD: Dual Income, No Kids, With a Dog
  • GINK: Green Inclinations, No Kids

DINK can be a limiting phrase that doesn’t necessarily account for all types of families. For instance, it leaves some ambiguity around empty nesters, couples who intend to conceive but have not yet, households with more than two adults, or where individuals rely on multiple income streams

For the sake of discussion, the term DINK and its variants can broadly apply to any family unit consisting of two or more working adults and no financial dependents.

Living in the Age of the DINKs

When the idea of a DINK stepped into the American lexicon, it described families that were outliers or perceived as outliers. Today, DINKs are closer to a majority.

From the 1960s to the 2020s, the share of married-couple households earning multiple incomes increased from 30% to 60%. For several reasons ranging from financial need to advances in workplace gender equality, far more adults entered the workforce over this period. Dual-income households have been the majority for at least the last two decades.

In parallel to the increase of “Dual Income” households, “No Kids” families are also on the rise. The US birth rate has been on a nearly-constant decline since the middle of the 20th century.

Families today are earning more income streams and having fewer kids than at any point in the previous century. We are living in the age of the DINKs.  

Every family is unique, and each has its own factors contributing to its choices, lifestyle, and household makeup. Even so, several key factors have contributed to the rise of the DINK generation.

Why Are More Families Choosing the DINK Lifestyle?

DINK is an inherently financial term. It focuses on income and usually comes up as a way to compare financial means between families. However, money isn’t necessarily why families choose to be DINKs.

Money is one of the common factors, but the complete picture is more complex. That picture contains some concerning realities about starting a family in the 21st century, but also reasons to be excited about where things might head next.

Let’s break down the driving factors behind the rise of the DINK generation, one by one, to connect the dots of this picture.

It’s Not Always a Choice

DINK conveys two things about a family: the number of incomes they earn, and whether or not they have kids. While both depend on significant personal choice, many situations can leave people without options.

For instance, financial hardship can make multiple incomes the only option for many couples. A non-working spouse is currently a luxury that few households can support. Likewise, struggling to keep up with the bills can make taking on another mouth to feed untenable.

Health or genetic factors can prevent couples from reproducing, just as legal, logistical, or, again, financial matters can provide barriers to adopting.

As the cultural lens can sometimes be critical of DINKS, casting them as selfish or missing out on the joys of childrearing, it is crucial to maintain empathy for families who might have no choice. 

Personal Preferences and Turning Cultural Tides

It is a common assumption that most couples who remain DINKs do so to have more money for wealth-building and luxury spending. However, the available data offers a different narrative:

They just don’t want to have kids.

According to Pew Research, more than half of childless adults say their main reason for not having kids is that they simply don’t want to. While this data point may stir thoughts of cynical adults and selfish lifestyle choices, there is also a more optimistic way to view it. 

Rapid social change in recent decades has moved us away from many worn-in assumptions of how a “normal” adult life must look. Normalizing that not everyone needs to become a parent has empowered more adults to make intentional choices that feel right to them. 

As a result, there are fewer people becoming parents out of a sense of obligation. More of those who do become parents are choosing it because they actively, enthusiastically want to. And that’s good news for parents, their kids, and the adults who build families in less-traditional ways. 

Money Still Plays a Role

Money may not be the leading driver in DINKs’ choices, but it is still a significant one. Although, money is more like a series of factors in this story, because it can affect family planning in multiple ways.

For some, as we discussed above, money struggle makes raising a child impossible, or at least enough of a burden as to hold off on trying.

In other cases, families could technically afford to raise children, but opt for the greater financial freedom they can achieve as DINKs.

Many couples view homeownership as a prerequisite to raising kids, whether for practical, emotional, or cultural reasons. For these situations, the massive financial hurdle of buying a house can keep a family in the DINKY category.

The cost of raising a child in the US has increased significantly in the last 60 years, even accounting for inflation and ignoring things like wage stagnation and the soaring cost of higher education. Of course, there are many ways a family can prepare and rise to meet this challenge, but even in a thriving economy, money would still factor heavily into the situation.

Environmental Concerns

There’s one final reason to consider why some families choose to remain child-free: they’re doing it to help the environment.

So-called GINKs (Green Inclinations, No Kids) choose not to raise children in an effort to protect the environment. The general thinking is that the overpopulation of humans accelerates various harms to the Earth’s climate and ecology. By choosing not to bring more humans into the world, GINKs intend to counter this overpopulation issue, even if only in small part.

Some GINKs would prefer to have kids, but choose to sacrifice for what they feel is a higher agenda. Alternatively, some families may have become DINKs for other reasons anyway but consider the environmental impact their primary motivation.

What’s Next for the DINK Generation?

Living as DINKs is no longer a marginal life choice, as it once was. More young families than ever before are designing family structures that suit their lives and needs, rather than defaulting to cultural expectations.

This development may read as disappointing to some, but there are many reasons to be excited about where things are going. Families are feeling more empowered to make choices that feel right to them. That is excellent news for parents and non-parents alike. And it’s especially positive news for the kids, a greater number of whom will be born into families who are excited to raise them and financially prepared to support them. If the transition can help the planet along the way, even just a little, well, that’s pretty great, too.

Avatar for Sam

Hey, I’m Sam. I created Smarter and Harder to explore big ideas, both old and new, about building a better life. My mission is to evolve the conversation about personal growth and have fun doing it.

Leave a Comment