About ten years ago, when I began researching Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice, I found there were so many childfree people out there who were thrilled someone finally wanted to talk with them. They felt they were living in the tributaries of society. When the book came out, it was clear the public wanted to hear from us, as it found childfree couples a provocative topic. Since then, we may still be in the minority, but are more heard than ever before.
About the time Families of Two was released, author Madelaine Cain wrote about a “childless revolution” in her book The Childless Revolution. If we look back on the last ten years or so can we say a revolution has been occurring? Let’s take a look from a few different angles.
The U.S. Census has been tracking “childlessness” figures for years now. However, it does not track the choice factor—whether a woman does not have children by choice or circumstance.
According to the Census, in the year 2000, of women aged 40-44, 19 percent did not have children. Over the last ten years or so, it has hovered in the same range, between 18-20 percent – or about one in five women.
The number of childless women 40-44 doubled between 1976 and 2008. A recent report by the Pew Research Center indicates that “among all women ages 40-44, the proportion that has never given birth, 18% in 2008, has grown by 80% since 1976, when it was 10%.”
With numbers like that, it’s fair to say that over the last 30+ years, we have seen a marked increase in women not having children. For some, they are truly childfree, and don’t want to be mothers, others arrive due to situational and circumstantial factors, such as not have a partner to co-parent, or in today’s times, very real economic reasons. Little data like this have been collected on men, but I will say that thanks to technology and the media, we are hearing from more childfree men – and women than every before.
Technology and Media
Thanks to the advances in technology in the last ten years, there has definitely been a revolution of the childfree being out there and heard. The internet has offered a powerful platform for people to learn about this choice through childfree sites, forums, blogs, and ezine articles. More than ever before, the childfree have resources, and places to go for information and support. It’s also been a way for childfree to connect and find friends. The international social organization, No Kidding!, has grown from just a chapter or two ten years ago to over 40 chapters today from all over the world.
In terms of media, we see much more now than we did on television and radio than we did ten years ago on this topic. It has been featured in many newspaper and magazines. Just taking me as an example, through television media alone during my book tour, I reached about 20 million people on the childfree topic, and reached even more since. I did more than 100 radio interviews, and continue to radio today. And there are a growing host of others out there, authors, journalists, and more writing and engaging discussion on the childfree that are contributing to the explosion of access to information on the childfree.
Public attitudes toward those who do not have children have helped influence the rise in the numbers of childless. Over the past few decades, people have become more accepting of people without children. According to the Pew Research Center, a survey done by the National Opinion research Center’s General Social Survey project indicated that in 1988, 39% of adults disagreed that people without children “lead empty lives.” In 2002, 59% disagreed with this.
Public attitudes about children being central to a good marriage have also changed. A study by the Pew Research Center in 2007 indicated that in 1990, 65% of adults said that children are very important for a successful marriage. In 2007, this figure dropped to 41 percent. As the childfree choice becomes even more accepted, we will continue to see a rise in the numbers who make it.
The growing numbers, surge of information, and attitudinal changes have influenced a larger attitudinal trend—that parenthood is a “lifestyle choice,” an option, rather than a given in life.
As more people see parenthood as an option in life, it’s time to work toward finding ways to more directly challenge the source of nonacceptance of the childfree choice: pronatalism.
Examples of this include efforts to educate children early in life that parenthood is an option, not a mandate in life. As they grow older they need solid tools that help them look at the pros and cons of each lifestyle choice, and assess which is right for them. Policy needs to shift from rewarding reproduction to promoting reproductive responsibility. When these kinds of things begin to happen, we’ll begin seeing the real revolution.
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