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5 Things Advisors Get Wrong About Childfree Clients

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Jay Zigmont is a financial advisor with a background that is somewhat atypical for a financial services professional, having earned a doctorate in adult education and having spent the better part of a decade working in the health care industry.

Speaking with ThinkAdvisor about the mid-2021 founding of his firm, Childfree Wealth, Zigmont says his goal is to use his background and expertise (and a fresh certified financial planner designation) to serve a sizable and growing segment of the U.S. population that is poorly understood by traditional family-oriented wealth managers.

Zigmont points to research coming out of the University of Michigan that shows approximately one in five U.S. adults now identifies as “childfree,” which is a distinct category from “childless.” Those who are childless, he explains, simply do not have kids at the present moment. Those who are childfree, on the other hand, have made a conscious decision to permanently avoid having children for any number of reasons.

According to Zigmont, the childfree population has distinct planning needs from other populations. As a primary example, childfree people tend to have less of a need for estate planning. Of course, some may have a great interest in bequeathing assets to charitable or philanthropic causes, but this is a different matter compared with planning for wealth transfers to children.

On the other hand, childfree people may have more substantial long-term care insurance concerns and may be more open to proactively purchasing insurance products at earlier life stages than the typical client with kids. Childfree people are often less tethered to a given city or region and therefore may be more easily able to sell a home and relocate as part of a retirement planning strategy.

In many other key ways, Zigmont says, childfree adults simply have a different planning outlook.

Zigmont says any financial advisor will do well to consider ways to attract and serve this sizable and affluent group of clients — but they must be careful when doing so. In speaking with his growing stable of clients, Zigmont says he has already heard many stories about the ways financial advisors offend and alienate this group, often in a misplaced attempt to be friendly or funny.

For example, a financial advisor should not go into a conversation with a married younger person who does not have kids and say something along the lines of, “You don’t have kids today but of course you are going to change your mind in the future.”

As Zigmont explains, this type of assumptive language can make an advisor appear out of touch or, worse, judgmental and patronizing.

“The other mistake I hear about constantly is advisory professionals only referring to a ‘family’ as a unit that includes parents and children,” Zigmont says. “Children are part of a family, of course, but they don’t make the family.”

Here, according to Zigmont, are five things advisors should understand in order to to communicate conscientiously with childfree clients. His insights are informed by a newly completed survey project he took on earlier this year that compiles the experiences of some 300 self-identified childfree people.

1. Being childfree is not always a choice, but it often is.

As Zigmont wrote in his book about being childfree, “Portraits of Childfree Wealth,” the reasons for being childfree are as varied as the people themselves.

There are interrelated themes around why people choose to be childfree that range from medical to financial, social and environmental.

“And they are all valid,” Zigmont says.

One thing Zigmont has found surprising in his research is the number of people who comment that they did not realize until later in their life that there was even a choice to be childfree.

Notably, there appear to be very few or no regrets voiced by people who are childfree. There are some fears for the future, Zigmont says, but those are not regrets.

2. Being childfree does not make a person or couple richer.

Among the childfree, according to Zigmont’s experience and empirical research, there are people who are barely making ends meet and others who are financially independent.

“I do find that childfree people tend to have less debt than the average American,” Zigmont points out. “The way I look at it is that if you are childfree and barely keeping your head above water, you would drown if you had a child.”

Census data shows approximately 9% of the U.S. population as a whole are millionaires, while Zigmont’s survey of childfree people shows 13.4% in the sample are millionaires. This would seem to suggest a positive correlation between the childfree and higher levels of wealth, but the picture quickly muddies when one looks deeper at the data.

As Zigmont points out, in the U.S. Census’ study of childless adults over 55, single women without children had a higher net worth, on average, than other women, but their wealth is not significantly greater than that of single women with children.

Zigmont’s analysis of the childfree finds that 55.18% of survey respondents were married (or previously married), which is below the Census’ findings that 67.9% of people over 55 had been married.

Childfree people do seem to have a higher education level than the general population, Zigmont notes, but that figure may be skewed by a slightly younger sample in his study than the overall U.S. population.

In the end, being childfree does not save people from income disparities and poverty or make them rich, Zigmont says.

3. Childfree people are happier, not lonelier, at the population level.

As part of Zigmont’s survey of the childfree, he asked the direct question: “Are you happy with your life?”

The overwhelming answer was yes. Ninety-four percent of respondents shared that they were happy with their life overall, and particularly the freedom they have.

One survey respondent wrote the following, capturing the spirit of many others’ point of view: “I am happy that I have the option to do and be whatever I want without pressure to support others financially. I am happy with my upward career path and am happy to have a healthy and growing relationship with my husband.”

This person wrote that she and her husband are “just in the beginning stages of really establishing ourselves and our long-term goals, and we feel confident in the life that is before us.”

Another participant shared both her own reflection and what her childhood self would say: “I love my husband, and I love the life we’ve created. I wish I could show my childhood me what I’m up to, because I think she would be proud. I also think she would be relieved. While I am married (like she always expected), I don’t have kids, and my life is full of fun, joy and adventure (which she didn’t expect).”

Many respondents voiced a variation on the theme that the United States is not the easiest country to be childfree in from a social perspective.

Of course, it is not that everything is perfect for this group. For those who said they were not happy, though, it was not typically a direct result of their life without kids.

4. Among the worst things about being childfree is social stigma.

When asked about the worst thing about being childfree, common responses related to societal expectations, the judgment of others and finding friends.

Many pointed to negative judgments from those who have children and from older generations of their family. Others pointed to negative interactions with co-workers, including one person who cited comments from a manager to the effect that a marriage “isn’t real until you have kids.”

Some people stated there was nothing bad about being childfree, while others put it in context.

One respondent shared the following explanation: “If I were answering this when I was in my early 20s (I am 30 now), I might have said societal judgment, but now I don’t care if people judge me, and I have found that most people, parents included, understand and agree with this lifestyle.”

Another participant tackled the question about judgment and being considered selfish.

“I think a lot of people look at the childfree as selfish, and I’m introspective enough to know that I am selfish, but that isn’t really a bad thing,” the respondent wrote. “Yes, I’m selfish in that I enjoy nice things for myself, and I don’t want to be responsible for another human; but I’m also doing what is right because to be a parent, you have to be willing to give up everything for them, and I’m not that person.”

5. The childfree aren’t panicked about long-term care.

Zigmont says that perhaps the most counterintuitive realization to have about childfree people is that they do not actually face a more difficult future outlook at it pertains to long-term care relative to those with children.

Unfortunately, this is because even those with children and large families struggle with this type of planning — not because childfree people have an inherently easier or more difficult path ahead of them.

According to Zigmont’s survey findings, most respondents did not have a specific plan in place for long-term care. This finding itself is not surprising, he notes, due to the ages represented and the fact that it is common to not have a plan.

Similar to the general population, Zigmont finds, many of the childfree aim to rely on a mix of privately funded care and government support to make ends meet should they require long-term care.

Zigmont says there was a “remarkable” number of responses from people planning on euthanasia as a long-term care solution. While there was often hope for more, euthanasia was regularly cited as an option.


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