Why some women choose not to have children

Birth rates have been falling for decades, in practically every country on earth. But not only are women having fewer children, more women are remaining childless for their entire lives.

15% of women in the United States now remain childless into their late 40s.

However, this choice to remain child-free isn’t one that comes easy.

The Guardian newspaper recently released some videos of interviews with women of various different ages who have chosen to remain childless reveal the fact that they often have to battle against the social norm that they should become mothers.

All of the women in this video explain that they were brought up with the norm that ‘normal’ women wanted children and would at some point have children.

They say that most of the subtle pressure to have children comes from their families, their own mothers and female relatives, but also their female friends and work colleagues.

If they tell a work colleague that they don’t want kids, the typical response back is that ‘you’ll want them one day’, as if the already-mothers or ‘pro-mums to be’ brush off their ‘not wanting kids’ attitude as temporary insanity, and thus to be disregarded.

One of the interviewees talks about how not having kids was never presented as a choice to her during early socialisation – it wasn’t until she was a teenager that she came across the idea that remaining childless was a legitimate choice for women.

An argument for not having children

In a recent piece written for the Guardian entitled ‘Why I don’t have a child: I cherish my freedom‘ Ann Neumann argues for the benefits of not having children.

She starts off pointing out the obvious freedoms that come with being childless – such as being able to pick up and move and switch jobs/ set up businesses/ go travelling whenever she likes, but she also says she has found freedom in a more profound sense – the freedom to be creative and to pursue and to develop her own career as she sees fit.

Finally, Neumann says that having remained child-free until her menopause has given her a fresh perspective on the whole status of childless women, and she presents a broadly radical-feminist that sees becoming a mother as the main event that locks women into traditionally gendered carer-roles , chained because they are mothers.

She also reminds us that all other things being equal it is much easier to free yourself form an abusive relationship if you have your own income, which is much more likely if you are not a mother!

There is a cost to remaining childless:

Women who remain childless have to pay for it:

  • Quite literally pay for contraception, and possibly abortions (she’s had two)
  • You have to be mentally disciplined enough to stick to a contraceptive routine.
  • You have to put up with the ‘too-personal inquiries’ in to why you’ve never had children (our female bodies are never our own),
  • And you have to suffer the loss of social status that comes with being motherless, as ‘mothers are the moral future of the nation’.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This would fit right in with the ‘Feminist theory‘ of the family, and is also of relevance to changing family patterns (declining birth rates) in the sociology of the family.

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