Advertisement

Gender Issues

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 226–247 | Cite as

‘Unnatural’, ‘Unwomanly’, ‘Uncreditable’ and ‘Undervalued’: The Significance of Being a Childless Woman in Australian Society

  • Stephanie RichEmail author
  • Ann Taket
  • Melissa Graham
  • Julia Shelley
Original Article

Abstract

Childlessness is an increasing trend, internationally and in Australia. The few studies exploring the lived experiences of childless women have been conducted in America, Canada and the United Kingdom; predominantly during the 1980s and 1990s. The experiences of childless women in contemporary Australia remain under-researched. This hermeneutic phenomenological study sought to enhance understanding of the lived experience of being a childless woman in contemporary Australia. In-depth interviews with five childless women revealed five key themes as significant facets of the experiences of childless women: notions of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’; woman = mother; childlessness as a discrediting attribute; feeling undervalued; and the significance of being childless. By privileging the experiences of childless women in a pronatalist society, it is apparent that misconceptions and stereotypes about childlessness continue to pervade. This study contributes to understanding this growing population group; highlighting that while childlessness is increasingly acknowledged, it is still not completely understood.

Keywords

Childlessness Stigma Stereotypes Pronatalism Femininity 

References

  1. 1.
    Abma, J., & Martinez, G. (2006). Childlessness among older women in the United States: Trends and profiles. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 68, 1045–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Arendall, T. (2000). Conceiving and investigating motherhood: The decade’s scholarship. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1192–1207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2002). Australian social trends, 2002. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2008). Australian social trends, 2008. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bartlett, J. (1994). Will you be mother? Women who choose to say no. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Callan, V. (1986). The impact of the first birth: Married and single women preferring childlessness, one child, or two children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48(2), 261–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Campbell, E. (1985). The childless marriage: An exploratory study of couples who do not want children. London: Tavistock Publications.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Cannold, L. (2004). Declining marriage rates and gender equity in social institutions: Towards an adequately complex explanation for childlessness. People and Place, 12(4), 1–11.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Cannold, L. (2005). What, no baby? Why women are losing the freedom to mother, and how they can get it back. Freemantle: Curtin University Books.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Carmichael, G., & Whittaker, A. (2007). Choice and circumstance: Qualitative insights into contemporary childlessness in Australia. European Population Journal, 23, 111–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Clarke, P. (1998). Intended childlessness, silent protest, and revitalization potential: The reproductive history as a window of resistance. Monograph presented at the 97th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Philadelphia.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Copur, Z., & Koropeckyj-Cox, T. (2010). University students’ perceptions of childless couples and parents in Ankara, Turkey. Journal of Family Issues, 31(11), 1481–1506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Costello, P. (2007). Launch of 2006 Census, ABS Data Processing Centre Melbourne. The Treasury, Australian Government. Retrieved September 26, 2008, from http://www.treasurer.gov.au/DisplayDocs.aspx?pageID=&doc=speeches/2007/011.htm&min=phc.
  14. 14.
    Daniluk, J. (2001). Reconstructing their lives: A longitudinal, qualitative analysis of the transition to biological childlessness for infertile couples. Journal of Counselling & Development, 79, 439–449.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Downs, B. (2003). Fertility of American women: June 2002. Washington: US Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Dykstra, P. (2006). Off the beaten track: Childlessness and social integration in late life. Research on Ageing, 28(6), 749–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Earle, S., & Letherby, G. (2003). Introduction. In S. Earle & G. Letherby (Eds.), Gender, identity & reproduction. Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Earle, S., & Letherby, G. (2007). Conceiving time? Women who do or do not conceive. Sociology of Health & Illness, 29(2), 233–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Faux, M. (1984). Childless by choice: Choosing childlessness in the eighties. New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ford, K., & Turner, D. (2001). Stories seldom told: paediatric nurses’ experiences of caring for hospitalized children with special needs and their families. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 33(3), 288–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Fossey, E., Harvey, C., McDermott, F., & Davidson, L. (2002). Understanding and evaluating qualitative research. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 36, 717–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Franklin, S. (1990). Deconstructing ‘desperateness’: The social construction of infertility in popular representations of new reproductive technologies. In M. McNeil, I. Varcoe, & S. Yearley (Eds.), The new reproductive technologies. UK: The Macmillan Press.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Franklin, J., & Chee Tueno, S. (2004). Low fertility among women graduates. People and Place, 12(1), 38–45.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Gillespie, R. (1999). Voluntary childlessness in the United Kingdom. Reproductive Health Matters, 7(13), 43–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Gillespie, R. (2000). When no means no: Disbelief, disregard and deviance as discourses of voluntary childlessness. Women’s Studies International Forum, 23(2), 223–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Gillespie, R. (2003). Childfree and feminine: Understanding the gender identity of voluntarily childless women. Gender & Society, 17(1), 122–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Green, E. (1998). Women doing friendship’: An analysis of women’s leisure as a site of identity construction, empowerment and resistance. Leisure Studies, 17, 171–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Greil, A. (1991). A secret stigma: The analogy between infertility and chronic illness and disability. Advances in Medical Sociology, 2, 17–38.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Hagestad, G., & Call, V. (2007). Pathways to childlessness: A life course perspective. Journal of Family Issues, 28(10), 1338–1361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Heard, G. (2006). Pronatalism under Howard. People and Place, 14(3), 12–25.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ireland, M. (1993). Reconceiving women: Separating motherhood from female identity. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Koropeckyj-Cox, T., & Call, V. (2007). Characteristics of older childless persons and parents: Cross-national comparisons. Journal of Family Issues, 28(10), 1362–1414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    LaMastro, V. (2001). Childless by choice? Attributions and attitudes concerning family size. Social Behaviour and Personality, 29(3), 231–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Lampman, C., & Dowling-Guyer, S. (1995). Attitudes towards voluntary and involuntary childlessness. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17, 231–244.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Laverty, S. (2003). Hermeneutic phenomenology and phenomenology: A comparison of historical and methodological considerations. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 2(3), 1–29.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Lee, C., & Gramotnev, H. (2006). Motherhood plans among young Australian women: Who wants children these days? Journal of Health Psychology, 11(1), 5–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. 38.
    Letherby, G. (2002). Challenging dominant discourses: Identity and change and the experience of ‘infertility’ and ‘involuntary childlessness. Journal of Gender Studies, 11(3), 277–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. 39.
    Letherby, G. (2002). Childless and bereft?: Stereotypes and realities in relation to ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ childlessness and womanhood. Sociological Inquiry, 72(1), 7–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Letherby, G., & Williams, C. (1999). Non-motherhood: Ambivalent autobiographies. Feminist Studies, 25(3), 719–728.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. 41.
    Maher, J., & Dever, M. (2004). What matters to women: Beyond reproductive stereotypes. People and Place, 12(3), 10–17.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Maher, J., & Saugeres, L. (2007). To be or not to be a mother? Negotiating cultural representations of mothering. Journal of Sociology, 43(1), 5–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. 43.
    Marshall, H. (1993). Not having children. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Miall, C. (1985). Perceptions of informal sanctioning and the stigma of involuntary childlessness. Deviant Behaviour, 6(4), 383–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Miall, C. (1986). The stigma of involuntary childlessness. Social Problems, 33(4), 268–282.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Mollen, D. (2006). Voluntarily childfree women: Experiences and counselling considerations. Journal of Mental Health Counselling, 28(3), 269–284.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Morell, C. (1994). Unwomanly conduct: The challenges of intentional childlessness. Great Britain: Routledge.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Morse, J. (2000). Editorial: determining sample size. Qualitative Health Research, 10(1), 3–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Mueller, K., & Yoder, J. (1997). Gendered norms for family size, employment, and occupation: Are there personal costs for violating them? Sex Roles, 36(3/4), 207–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. 50.
    Office for National Statistics. (2007). Social trends. UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    Park, K. (2002). Stigma management among the voluntarily childless. Sociological Perspectives, 45(1), 21–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. 52.
    Parr, N. (2005). Family background, schooling and childlessness in Australia. Journal of Biosocial Science, 37, 229–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 53.
    Parry, D. (2005). Women’s Leisure as resistance to pronatalist ideology. Journal of Leisure Research, 37(2), 133–151.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Qu, L., Weston, R., & Kilmartin, C. (2000). Effects of changing personal relationships on decisions about having children. Family Matters, 57, 14–19.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Reissman, C. (2000). Stigma and everyday resistance practices: Childless women in South India. Gender & Society, 14(1), 111–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Remennick, L. (2000). Childless in the land of imperative motherhood: Stigma and coping among infertile Israeli women. Sex Roles, 43(11/12), 821–841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Robinson, E., & Robinson, S. (2003). What does it mean?: Discourse, text, culture—an introduction. Australia: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Rowland, R. (1982). An exploratory study of the childfree lifestyle. Journal of Sociology., 18(1), 17–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. 59.
    Rowland, D. (2007). Historical trends in childlessness. Journal of Family Issues, 28(10), 1311–1337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. 60.
    Rowlands, I., & Lee, C. (2006). Choosing to have children or choosing to be childfree: Australian students’ attitudes towards the decisions of heterosexual and lesbian women. Australian Psychologist, 41(1), 55–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. 61.
    Schapiro, B. (1980). Predicting the course of voluntary childlessness in the 21st century. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 9(2), 155–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. 62.
    Seccombe, K. (1991). Assessing the costs and benefits of children: Gender comparisons among childfree husbands and wives. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 53(1), 191–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. 63.
    Sykes, G., & Matza, D. (1957). Techniques of neutralization: A theory of delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 664–670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. 64.
    Ulrich, M., & Weatherall, A. (2000). Motherhood and infertility: Viewing motherhood through the lens of infertility. Feminism & Psychology, 10(3), 323–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. 65.
    Van Manen, M. (1997). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Canada: The Althouse Press.Google Scholar
  66. 66.
    Veevers, J. (1980). Childless by choice. Canada: Butterworth & Co. (Canada) Ltd.Google Scholar
  67. 67.
    Vissing, Y. (2002). Women without children: Nurturing lives. USA: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  68. 68.
    Weinger, S. (2009). Infertile Cameroonian women: Social marginalization and coping strategies. Qualitative Social Work, 8(1), 45–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. 69.
    Weston, R., & Qu, L. (2001). Men’s and women’s reasons for not having children. Family Matters, 58(Autumn), 10–15.Google Scholar
  70. 70.
    Wheeler, J. (2005). Decision-making styles of women who choose not to have children. Unpublished manuscript presented at the 9th Australian Institute of Family Studies Conference, February 9–11, 2005, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  71. 71.
    Wilde, D., & Murray, C. (2009). “The evolving self: Finding meaning in near-death experiences using interpretative phenomenological analysis”, Mental Health. Religion & Culture, 12(3), 223–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. 72.
    Wood, G., & Newton, J. (2006). Childlessness and women managers: ‘Choice’, context and discourses. Gender, Work and Organization, 13(4), 338–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. 73.
    Woodward, K. (2003). Representations of motherhood. In S. Earle & G. Letherby (Eds.), Gender, identity & reproduction. Great Britain: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  74. 74.
    Woollett, A. (1991). Having children: Accounts of childless women and women with reproductive problems. In A. Phoenix, A. Woollett, & E. Lloyd (Eds.), Motherhood: Meanings, practices and ideologies. UK: Sage.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephanie Rich
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ann Taket
    • 1
  • Melissa Graham
    • 1
  • Julia Shelley
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Health Through Action on Social Exclusion (CHASE), School of Health and Social DevelopmentDeakin UniversityBurwoodAustralia

Personalised recommendations