Why Women Choose to Remain Child-Free

Tauriq Moosa has looked at the bizarre stigma around people – especially women – who voluntarily decide not to procreate. This includes: 

  • Not having children is a ‘bad decision’
  • Life is meaningless without children
  • ‘You’re a “crazy” cat lady in training.’ (This is ableist and so doubly awful)
  • The decision is selfish and you’ll eventually regret it
  • ‘You’ll change your mind when you meet the right man’
  • ‘What are you waiting for?’
  • ‘Your biological clock is ticking’
  • ‘You’d be a great mum’
  • ‘You think you don’t want kids but when you have them you’ll change your mind’
  • Your partner will eventually leave you unless you have kids
  • ‘You don’t know what real love is’
  • No one will be around to look after you when you’re old.

There’s some excellent sociology on this topic of why people choose to remain child-free. For example, Janet Wheeler notes that in Australia, 24% of women are child-free, and only 7% of this is due to infertility. The rest are a mixture of circumstance (e.g. break-up of a relationship) or a conscious decision not to have children.

Wheeler’s research shows that career, “selfishness” and “waiting for the right man” (along with the other listed reasons in the Big Think article below) are framed poorly (as the Big Think also argues). The research shows that women simply want to live child-free lifestyles. Wheeler writes:

” these women expressed a negative attitude towards the motherhood role. It was seen as all-encompassing, requiring them to take on the bulk of the responsibility and work, and therefore would mean making radical changes to their lifestyles. It would mean putting themselves on the ‘back burner’ and ‘giving up’ aspects of their lives such as work, study, sport and other creative pursuits”

Wheeler’s research further supports other empirical data showing that the commitment to remaining child-free is linked to timing:

Early deciders are women who chose to be child-free before the age of 30, usually in childhood or in their early 20s. These women have an unwavering commitment to staying child-free.

Postponers had reached this decision in their mid-30s and their level of commitment fluctuated in response to changing life dynamics.

Wheeler concludes that social policy intervention would not likely change the minds of early deciders, but it may sway some,  though not all, of the postponers’ decision-making. 

Wheeler’s research shows that motherhood is conceived negatively due to the structure of family, work and gender inequality in other areas of life. She argues:

“The women in this study enjoyed the benefits of equality in areas of their lives. In contrast, the way they conceptualised motherhood (as a loss of these benefits) suggests that social institutions such as the family were perceived as lacking in gender equity.” 

There are two interesting issues arising from Wheeler’s research: 

1) Motherhood is equated with inequality. This can only be addressed with better social policy and institutional practices that support women’s full participation in society, both at work and at home.

2) Some women simply want to determine their own life course. This means defining their identities outside the narrow conception of one primary role (that of being a mother).  

Being child-free is not a pathology. It is about women making choices for that suit their own futures.

Wheeler’s broader PhD research also examined how other people treated child-free women with stigma. This is because people map women’s life-course against a routine of heterosexual parenthood. That is: meet a man, get married, have babies, send kids off to school, put them through university, then retire.

This life-course does not suit everybody.

The fact that others can’t imagine life having meaning in any other life-course shows the power of socialisation. 

One thought on “Why Women Choose to Remain Child-Free

  1. What is missing in the Wheeler’s study though is a comparison with childless-by-choice men. It’s a pity, because it would most probably strengthen her point.

    Indeed, having children cause much less damage on a man’s career than on a woman’s. So probably, men would end up with the same argument that parenthood is an “all encompassing role, which would mean surrendering their current lifestyles”.

    It’s mostly a guess but it would be very interesting to study.


Comments are closed.