Aging without children or grandchildren is becoming an increasingly common scenario for many older couples and singles. This
growing trend may continue, though Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show the birth rate rose for the first time in seven years in 2021. Yet as more adults remain single or marry later in life, some change their minds about having children or find they’re unable to have them.
Along with the increase in people choosing not to have kids, other circumstances lead to childlessness such as infertility or the death of a child.
The rising cost of raising children and inadequate support for working parents are often cited as reasons why more people decide not to have children, according to Heeju Sohn, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at
“While there has been much (recent) public interest in people choosing not to have children at all (or at least saying so in surveys), this trend has been going on for many decades, and it coincides with people delaying when they start having children,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“An increasing proportion of young adults spend longer in school, building their careers, and being single throughout their 20s. They delay having children until they are in their 30s and beyond,” Sohn continued. “In the past, women with more education (advanced degrees) were more likely to delay having children than women with less education, but that trend is spreading to women of all educational attainment. The relatively high fertility in the United States has been somewhat of an anomaly among countries with similar economies, and I expect the growing trend in childlessness to continue here.”
Adults without a built-in safety net for support may struggle in situations where it’s assumed they have familial help, such as health care providers assuming there’s someone to transport patients home or care for them after surgery. This is just one of many ways that society is built around a “modal” family structure, or “married households with children,” Sohn said.
Many common societal practices and policies “tap into the resources of adult children as the safety net. The problem is that people without adult children — whether they never had children, are estranged from their children, or have lost their children to mortality — are left to navigate difficult periods with a weaker safety net,” Sohn said.
The rising cost of raising children and inadequate support for working parents are often cited as reasons why more people decide not to have children.
The good news for older adults without kids and grandkids is that they can reap rewarding health and wellness benefits from a strong social network and support system, which may be more important than having children.
“The impact of having children on health and well-being in later life is mixed and generally not as strong as being in a partnership or having a solid support network of friends,” Sohn said. “Furthermore, the relationship quality with adult children matters more than having surviving children. Parents who lived apart from their children … (or who) are not on good terms are at greater risk of having a limited relationship with their children. A robust friend network and engagement with the community (volunteering, for example) have been shown to improve (older adults’) physical activity, mental health, and well-being.”
Sohn said that racial disparities also exist, causing some additional challenges for older adult people of color who are aging without children or grandchildren.
“Marriage, divorce, fertility, and mortality shape the kin network that everyone is embedded in, and differences in these demographic rates by race portend diverging kin networks 20-40 years into the future (the most common studies are differences between white and Black families). Aging Black adults are more likely to live without a spouse or have deceased adult children than aging white adults,” Sohn said.
The most popular, gender-neutral baby names
The most popular, gender-neutral baby names
Every parent is different when it comes to naming their baby. Some wish to honor family with a generational name; others dive deep into meanings and symbolism, and some choose a name solely based on how it sounds. No matter what path you decide when it's your turn to give a child their name, it's a significant choice that usually lasts a lifetime.
Many parents are turning to gender-neutral names as the conversation surrounding gender identity becomes more common.
Stacker analyzed data from the Social Security Administration's list of popular baby names in 2021 (the most recent data available). The 2021 ranks for names that appeared on both lists (girls and boys) were averaged to quantify gender-neutral popularity in 2021.
In addition to popularity, the list also gives more insight into each name, touching on its origin and meaning. Is your future baby's name waiting for you? Read on and find out.
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- Average rank: 479
- Rank for male names: 608
- Rank for female names: 349
The word "reign" means "royal authority," and who doesn't think their kiddo will rule? The name has been gaining steady popularity for both girls and boys, perhaps partly because Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick named their son Reign in 2014.
- Average rank: 467
- Rank for male names: 160
- Rank for female names: 773
The one-T spelling of Elliot has always been a favored boys' name but has sprung into popularity for girls in recent years. No matter the spelling, the name is a great way for parents to celebrate their faith—its Hebrew origin means "the Lord is my God" and it's a variant of the biblical name Elijah.
- Average rank: 458
- Rank for male names: 321
- Rank for female names: 594
Ellis is a Welsh name that means "kind, benevolent," which is a descriptor every parent would love for their child. The name has always been a desirable name for boys. However, since the 1980s, it's become increasingly popular among girls. In 2016, the popular medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" character Meredith Grey named her daughter Ellis (after her mother, Ellis Grey), which may have helped further boost Ellis' popularity as a female name.
- Average rank: 454
- Rank for male names: 357
- Rank for female names: 550
The name Remy comes from French, Latin descent meaning "oarsman," Its popularity as a gender-neutral name started to soar in 2009—it's probably not a coincidence that two years earlier Pixar released "Ratatouille," starring a loveable rat chef with the same name.
- Average rank: 453
- Rank for male names: 670
- Rank for female names: 236
The first thing that comes to mind when most people hear "Lennon" is the late Beatles star, John Lennon. The Irish name means "lover." What people have considered more of a boys' name for decades has skyrocketed in popularity for girls in the 21st century.
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- Average rank: 453
- Rank for male names: 270
- Rank for female names: 635
Dallas may just remind you of Texas, but the name comes from Scottish origin and means "from the dales" or "the valley meadows." It has always been a popular boys' name, but since 2008 you may have met more girls with the name, too.
- Average rank: 452
- Rank for male names: 86
- Rank for female names: 817
By definition, Hunter means "one who hunts, pursuer." What began as a surname for professional hunters became a fashionable personal name in the 1990s. While it's still much higher in the rankings for boys, Hunter has become an increasingly popular girls' name in the past 20 years. Hunter is the real first name of HunterGirl, the runner-up on the 20th season of "American Idol."
- Average rank: 427
- Rank for male names: 764
- Rank for female names: 89
Emery is a British name meaning "industrious" or "powerful." What started as a surname and a popular name for boys has completely flipped in the past 25 years. The gender-neutral name is now much higher in the rankings for girls' names.
- Average rank: 427
- Rank for male names: 254
- Rank for female names: 599
Those interested in German and Celtic mythology may consider naming their baby Lennox. The Scottish name means "with many elm trees" and "elm grove." Elms have often been associated with mythical things like fairies and elves. The name has steadily gained popularity in the past 20 years.
- Average rank: 424
- Rank for male names: 701
- Rank for female names: 147
Reese's Welsh origin means "enthusiasm," "fire," and "ardor." While it was once considered a boys' name primarily, Reese has been climbing in popularity for girls in the past 30 years. In 2003, it became a more popular girls' name (most likely due to actress Reese Witherspoon's rise to stardom).
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- Average rank: 421
- Rank for male names: 720
- Rank for female names: 122
"Remi" is slightly more popular than its other variation, "Remy." While the meaning—"oarsman" or "cure"—is the same, it's interesting to note that this version is wildly more popular for girls than the "Y" spelling.
- Average rank: 421
- Rank for male names: 71
- Rank for female names: 770
Kai has a wide range of meanings across cultures. The name is of Welsh origin and means "keeper of the keys and earth," however, in Hawaii, Kai means "the sea," and in New Zealand, it's the Maori word for "food." The name has steadily increased for girls and boys since the 1990s but is still much more popular as a boys' name.
- Average rank: 419
- Rank for male names: 369
- Rank for female names: 469
Armani is an Italian name that means "child of Armano" or "warrior," but most people associate it with the fashion designer Giorgio Armani. The name is more well-known as a surname but is gaining popularity as a personal name for both boys and girls.
- Average rank: 418
- Rank for male names: 643
- Rank for female names: 192
In medieval times, the French name Taylor was an occupational name for (you guessed it) a tailor. What began as a much more widely used boys' name has soared in popularity for girls. In 1991, Taylor became a more sought-after name for girls than boys, and those numbers continue to increase thanks to female stars like Taylor Swift.
- Average rank: 410
- Rank for male names: 342
- Rank for female names: 478
Ari is another name that's meaning changes depending on where in the world you live. In Scandinavian, it means "eagle," in Hebrew, it means "lion," and in the Badaga language, it means "sun-like." Though it's often a nickname (think Ariana Grande), Ari has recently increased in popularity as a stand-alone name.
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- Average rank: 409
- Rank for male names: 612
- Rank for female names: 205
Of Welsh origin, Morgan means "circling sea" or "white sea dweller." The name has historically been a popular boys' name. However, the seas changed in the 1970s and vaulted in popularity for girls. In 1980, Morgan's popularity with girls surpassed that of boys and has continued to climb as a sought-after girls' name.
- Average rank: 407
- Rank for male names: 472
- Rank for female names: 341
Alexis is a Greek name that means "defender" or "protector." The name launched into popularity for girls in the 1940s and gradually crept up in the rankings for boys, too. In 2021, it's still a more popular girls' name, but the numbers are pretty close.
- Average rank: 393
- Rank for male names: 541
- Rank for female names: 244
Sutton's British origin means "southern homestead." The name has gone through its ups and downs in popularity through the decades, but is seeing its highest ranks for girls and boys in 2021.
- Average rank: 391
- Rank for male names: 560
- Rank for female names: 222
Ariel is a sacred name in Hebrew. The word describes the city of Jerusalem and means "lion of God." The name also conjures up other images for Disney fans, becoming famous in pop culture as the name of the titular character in "The Little Mermaid." Therefore, it may not be surprising that Ariel saw its highest spot as a girls' name in 1991, two years after the movie was released. But it's also remained a popular boys' name.
- Average rank: 376
- Rank for male names: 37
- Rank for female names: 714
Ezra is a deeply important name in the Jewish faith, referring to Ezra the Scribe, a religious leader known for restoring the Jewish community and strengthening the religion. In Hebrew, the name means "help." Ezra is a wildly popular boys' name and is becoming more desirable for girls, too.
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- Average rank: 361
- Rank for male names: 169
- Rank for female names: 552
Like the single "T" variation, Elliott is a biblical name meaning "the Lord is my God." Both spellings are more popular for boys. But this version is even more popular for girls than Elliot.
- Average rank: 347
- Rank for male names: 2
- Rank for female names: 692
Another important Biblical name, Noah means something completely different in its masculine and feminine forms. The female variation means "motion" and refers to the biblical figure No'ah, Zelophehad's daughter. For males, it means "rest or repose" and derives from Noach. Noah was the second most popular boy name in 2021, but it has also been gaining traction as a girls' name in recent years.
- Average rank: 346
- Rank for male names: 295
- Rank for female names: 396
Rory is the perfect baby name for any Irish history buff. Its origins stem from the Irish word
ruadh, which means "red," and the Old Irish name Ruaidrí, meaning "red king." Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair was the High King of Ireland in the 1100s. Rory has historically been a more popular boys' name, but it rose in prominence as a girls' name in the past 20-plus years, thanks partly to the main character of "Gilmore Girls," Rory Gilmore.
- Average rank: 332
- Rank for male names: 385
- Rank for female names: 279
Tatum's origin is quite specific: The name refers to a tiny English village that means "Tata's homestead." But that hasn't stopped it from becoming a popular baby name worldwide. Tatum has generally been used more as a girls' name but has soared in popularity for boys recently.
- Average rank: 311
- Rank for male names: 501
- Rank for female names: 121
Anyone familiar with the Bible won't be surprised that Eden means "place of pleasure, delight," referring to the Garden of Eden. While the name is much more popular for girls, it's
become increasingly desirable for boys in recent years.
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- Average rank: 307
- Rank for male names: 344
- Rank for female names: 270
Dakota is the name of a Native American Sioux tribe that is known for its kinship and sense of community, hence the name's meaning of "friend" or "ally." Throughout the years, the name has oscillated between being more popular for girls and boys. In 2021, it was pretty close in the rankings for both genders.
- Average rank: 306
- Rank for male names: 44
- Rank for female names: 567
Dylan is a Welsh name meaning "son of the sea." And while it's a wildly popular boys' name, it has also gained traction as a girls' name. Since the 1980s, Dylan has become increasingly popular for both genders.
- Average rank: 303
- Rank for male names: 427
- Rank for female names: 179
While Sage's Latin origin means "wise" and "healthy," it's best known as an herb in English and also references a group of philosophers known as the Seven Sages of Greece. No matter the particular meaning you choose for your Sage, the name continues to rise in popularity for both girls and boys.
- Average rank: 298
- Rank for male names: 403
- Rank for female names: 193
Oakley is a British name meaning "meadow of oak trees," and is perfect for nature-loving parents. The name's seen highs and lows in popularity for boys and girls alike. Overall, it has soared in desirability for the past 10-plus years.
- Average rank: 290
- Rank for male names: 231
- Rank for female names: 348
Another name for nature lovers, Remington is of English origin, meaning "place on a riverbank." The name made a meteoric rise in popularity for boys in the 1980s and then experienced similar popularity for girls a decade later. In 2021, the name was pretty close in the rankings for the two genders.
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- Average rank: 285
- Rank for male names: 471
- Rank for female names: 99
Peyton has quite an interesting meaning: "fighting man's estate." The Irish origins may be a bit antiquated. Still, the name became far more popular for girls than boys in the early 1990s and has continued to rise in popularity for females while it drops for males.
- Average rank: 281
- Rank for male names: 66
- Rank for female names: 495
Since the 1970s, Ryan has been consistently in the top 100 boy names in the United States. But despite its Gaelic origin meaning "little king," there are plenty of girls named Ryan as well. Interestingly enough, it was in the 1970s that the name shot up in female popularity.
- Average rank: 279
- Rank for male names: 67
- Rank for female names: 491
According to its Greek origins, Angel means "messenger." But to those of faith, it means something more divine: "messenger of God." In the 1970s, Angel was a more popular girl's name. However, it's dropped off since then and is considered a more sought-after boys' name in 2021.
- Average rank: 278
- Rank for male names: 248
- Rank for female names: 308
Phoenix is the ultimate symbol of growth and transformation. The mythical bird is known for its ability to rise from the ashes of flame anew, and the word's Greek origin means "dark red," most likely referring to the cleansing fire. Phoenix is a powerful name for a child, and modern-day parents embrace it regardless of gender.
- Average rank: 270
- Rank for male names: 39
- Rank for female names: 500
The British name Carter means "transporter of goods by cart" and was once an occupational surname. For more than a century, Carter's been a popular given name for boys—remaining in the top 100 since 2008—and has risen in prominence for girls in recent years.
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- Average rank: 266
- Rank for male names: 199
- Rank for female names: 333
In Hebrew, Amari means "eternal," in Greek, it means "immortal," and in Arabic, it means "moon." Amari has risen in popularity for both boys and girls in America, and in 2021 broke the top 200 in boys' names for the first time.
- Average rank: 265
- Rank for male names: 62
- Rank for female names: 468
Not all popular names have idyllic meanings: Cameron's Scottish origin means "crooked nose." But that hasn't stopped it from being a top 200 boys' name for 35 years and a pretty popular girls' name, too.
- Average rank: 257
- Rank for male names: 88
- Rank for female names: 425
Jordan is a Hebrew name meaning "to flow down" and is a biblical reference to the Jordan River, the location of Jesus Christ's baptism. Jordan has always been a more popular name for boys but shot up in prominence for girls in the 1990s. In the past 20 years, its ranking has fallen as a female name, but it's still in the top 500.
- Average rank: 243
- Rank for male names: 405
- Rank for female names: 80
Any parent knows that babies rule the house. So what's a more fitting name than the Gaelic word for "chief"? Quinn has historically been a more popular boys' name, but in 2010 it became more popular for girls and has stayed that way since.
- Average rank: 238
- Rank for male names: 265
- Rank for female names: 211
Finley's Irish origin means "fair-haired courageous one," but your kiddo doesn't have to have light hair to rock this name. Finley has hit peaks and valleys as far as rankings go for both genders but has soared in popularity in recent years.
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- Average rank: 233
- Rank for male names: 176
- Rank for female names: 290
Hayden's Old English roots translate to "in the hay fields." But some consider it to have the same meaning as the Welsh name Aiden, which means "bringer of fire." Hayden has become an increasingly popular name for girls and boys in the past 30 years.
- Average rank: 223
- Rank for male names: 279
- Rank for female names: 167
Emerson is a German name with an array of meanings: "brave," "powerful," and "child of Emery." It's historically a boys' name, but has become overwhelmingly popular for girls. In fact, in 2002, the tides turned completely, and Emerson's female ranking surpassed the male. It's stayed that way ever since.
- Average rank: 174
- Rank for male names: 106
- Rank for female names: 241
If red hair runs in your family, Rowan is the best name to celebrate those fiery locks since its Irish roots mean "little redhead." Of course, red hair isn't a prerequisite for the name, as it's grown wildly popular for babies in recent years. Rowan also conjures up thoughts of nature, as it's the namesake of a tree that bears red berries and is prominent in folklore.
- Average rank: 166
- Rank for male names: 21
- Rank for female names: 310
Logan's Gaelic and Scottish roots may mean "hollow," but this name is quite robust in popularity. It broke the top 100 in boys' names in 1995 and hasn't dropped off since. For girls, its prominence shot up in the 1970s and has continued to rise gradually.
- Average rank: 165
- Rank for male names: 114
- Rank for female names: 216
Sawyer began as an English occupational surname meaning "woodcutter." But ever since Mark Twain's 1876 novel "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," the name conjures up visions of curiosity and mischief. In the early 20th century, Sawyer became a popular given name for boys but declined immensely in the first half of the century. It shot up again in the 1980s and became increasingly popular among girls.
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- Average rank: 158
- Rank for male names: 189
- Rank for female names: 127
Charlie's German origins mean "free man." Charlie has become a wildly popular name across the board. It's been higher in the rankings for girls than boys since 2016.
- Average rank: 142
- Rank for male names: 246
- Rank for female names: 37
The British roots of Riley mean "rye clearing," however, parents may prefer the meaning of the Irish surname Reilly—"courageous" or "valiant." No matter what definition best suits your family, one thing is certain: Riley is no longer just a name for boys. It's become much more popular for girls in the 21st century.
- Average rank: 131
- Rank for male names: 110
- Rank for female names: 151
It should come as no surprise that River means "flowing body of water." But in a more symbolic sense, the nature-minded name conjures thoughts of growth, tranquility, and life, making it perfect for the free-spirited. River has always been a popular boys' name but has gained traction for girls, too.
- Average rank: 115
- Rank for male names: 210
- Rank for female names: 19
Though every baby is magical, one named Avery has an extra touch. The name's British origin means "elf counsel" or "ruler of elves," and is splendid for any fantasy-loving family. The name has been on a roller coaster in the rankings for girls and is steadily popular for boys. But in the past 20-plus years, it has once again become more sought after for girls.
- Average rank: 104
- Rank for male names: 93
- Rank for female names: 115
Parker began as an Old English occupational surname meaning "park keeper," but these days, parks conjure up ideas of the outdoors, lushness, togetherness, and, of course, fun. Since becoming a more fashionable given name, Parker has generally been more popular among boys. However, in the past 30-plus years, it's also risen in prominence for girls.
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