Do women who choose not to have children feel more social pressure to become mothers than those who cannot have children? According to a new study, they do — but it bothers them less.
Which … makes sense. Obviously most women who are childfree by choice are going to be less bothered by perceived pressure to have kids than those who really want to conceive and can’t. Conversely, it seems only natural that women with fertility issues aren’t going to get bugged by mom at Christmas about why she doesn’t yet have a grandbaby (unless said mom is exceedingly cruel).
Still, there are some interesting tidbits in the study, which surveyed 1,200 childless American women.
• Highly religious women perceived fewer average social messages stressing the importance of having children compared with less religious women.
• Hispanic and African-American women were least likely to be voluntarily childfree, but were most likely to have “biomedical fertility barriers” (i.e. infertility).
• The average age of women who were childfree by choice was about four years older than the average age of those with biomedical barriers and about six years older than childless women with “situational barriers” (financial concerns, education or job demands, lack of a partner).
• Family income was highest among voluntarily childfree women and lowest among women with fertility issues.
In a press release about the study, lead researcher Julia McQuillan seems almost shocked that the uncovered “women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children.” She adds quaintly:
“Rather than assume that women without children are missing something, society should benefit from valuing a variety of paths for adult women to have satisfying lives.”
Ha! As Hanna can tell you from experience, that’s an assumption many if not most people aren’t willing to give up.
There was a beautiful essay by Kelly Flynn in the New York Times yesterday, on how being childless (due to a long-ago ruptured appendix) has affected her social relationships and proclivities. You should check out the whole thing, but this one paragraph is particularly telling about American attitudes toward childless women:
“The feeling of being an outsider is most keen when I am with a group of women. I am an oddity. The ones with children cannot imagine a life without. The unasked question hangs in the air: “You don’t have children because — —?” The implication is that if I chose a life without children, I am cold. If I can’t have children, I am to be pitied.”