This research compares a nonprobability, precision-matched sample of 27 female undergraduates wishing to remain childless with 27 female undergraduates desiring to have children. The purpose was to test 8 hypotheses in an effort to explain the desire for a childless lifestyle at a relatively early age. A social psychological model is presented that elucidates some of the influential factors. The basic idea of the model is that such a choice can be analyzed in terms of three basic concepts: (1) family background factors; (2) self-other attitudes; and (3) reference groups. The data in this study, although collected at only one point in time, support the argument that these concepts play a central role in the decision to remain voluntarily childless. The family background factors are seen as instigative in the development of autonomy and achievement orientation. These two factors, accompanied by a belief that the advantages associated with childlessness outweigh the advantages associated with childbearing, predispose an individual to desire a childless lifestyle, particularly when these various attitudes are sustained through reference group support.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
ALLGEIER, E. R. (1975) “Beyond sowing and growing: the relationship of sex typing to socialization, family plans, and future orientation.” J. of Applied Social Psychology 5, 3: 217–226.
ASTIN, A. W. and R. C. NICHOLS (1964) “Life goals and vocational choice.” J. of Applied Psychology 48 (February): 50–58.
BAUMRIND, D. (1971) “Current patterns of parental authority.” Developmental Psychology Monograph 4 (January): 1, Part 2.
BLAKE, J. (1972) “Coercive pronatalism and American population policy.” Research paper prepared for the Commission on Population and the American Future. University of California, Berkeley International Population and Urban Research.
—— (1969) “Population policy for Americans: is the government being misled?” Sci. 164 (May): 522–529.
BOWERMAN, C. E. and G. H. ELDER, Jr. (1969) “Variations in adolescent perception of family power structure,” pp. 108–131 in R. E. Grinder (ed.) Studies in Adolescence, A Book of Readings of Adolescent Development. Toronto: Macmillan.
CLARKSON, F. E., S. R. VOGEL, I. R. BROVERMAN, D. M. BROVERMAN, and P. S. ROSENKRANTZ (1970) “Family size and sex-role stereotypes.” Sci. 167: 390–392.
CRUTCHFIELD, R. S. (1955) “Conformity and character.” Amer. Psychologist 10: 191–198.
EAGLY, A. H. and P. ANDERSON (1974) “Sex role and attitudinal correlates of desired family size.” J. of Applied Social Psychology 4: 151–164.
ELLIS, E. (1952) “Social psychological correlates of upward mobility among unmarried career women.” Amer. Soc. Rev. 17: 558–563.
FISHBEIN, M. A. (1967) “Attitude and the prediction of behavior,” pp. 477–492 in M. Fishbein (ed.) Readings in Attitude Theory and Measurement. New York John Wiley.
—— (1965) “A consideration of beliefs, attitudes and their relationship,” pp. 107–120 in E. D. Steiner and M. A. Fishbein (eds.) Current Studies in Social Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
HEIST, P. et al. (1968) Omnibus Personality Inventory. Berkeley, CA: Center for the Study of Higher Education.
HOUSEKNECHT, S. (1977) “Reference group support for voluntary childlessness: evidence for conformity.” J. of Marriage and the Family 39 (May): 2, 285–292.
-- (1974) “Social psychological aspects of voluntary childlessness.” Master's thesis, Pennsylvania State University. (unpublished)
LIPMAN-BLUMBEN, J. (1972) “How ideology shapes women's lives.” Scientific Amer. 226 (January): 34–42.
McCLELLAND, D. C. (1961) The Achieving Society. New York: Van Nostrand.
McDAVID, J. W. and H. HAPARI (1968) Social Psychology—Individuals, Groups, and Societies. New York: Harper & Row.
POHLMAN, E. (1970) “Childlessness, intentional and unintentional.” J. of Nervous and Mental Disease 151: 2–12.
ROSEN, B. C. and R. D. D'ADRADE (1959) “The psycho-social origins of achievement motivation.” Sociometry 22 (September): 185–218.
SHERIF, M. and C. W. SHERIF (1969) Social Psychology. New York: Harper & Row.
—— (1964) Reference Groups. Chicago: Henry Regnery.
SILKA, L. and S. KIESLER (1977) “Couples who choose to remain childless.” Family Planning Perspectives 9 (January/February): 1, 16–25.
SPENCE, J. T. and R. HELMREICH (1972) “The attitudes toward women scale: an objective instrument to measure attitudes toward the rights and roles of women in contemporary society.” Selected Documents in Psychology. Washington, DC: Journal Supplement Abstract Service, American Psychological Association.
STEIN, A. H. and M. M. BAILEY (1974) “The socialization of achievement orientation in females.” Psych. Bull.
STRAUS, M. A. (1962) “Conjugal power structure and adolescent personality.” Marriage and Family Living 24 (February): 17–25.
SUSSMAN, M. B. et al. (1971) Changing Families in a Changing Society. Forum 14 in Report to the President: White House Conference on Children. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
TAVRIS, C. and T. JAYARATNE (1972) “What 120,000 young women can tell you about sex, motherhood, menstruation, housework—and men.” Redbook (January).
TRIANDIS, H. C. (1971) Attitude and Attitude Change. New York: John Wiley.
U.S. Bureau of the Census (1976) “Fertility history and prospects of American women: June 1975.” Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 288. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office.
VEEVERS, J. E. (1974) “The life style of voluntarily childless couples,” in L. Larson (ed.) The Canadian Family in Comparative Perspective. Toronto: Prentice-Hall.
—— (1973) “Voluntary childless wives: an exploratory study.” Sociology and Social Research 57 (April): 356–366.
WELLER, R. H. (1971) “The impact of employment upon fertility”, pp. 154–166 in A. Michel (ed.) Family Issues of Employed Women in Europe and America. The Netherlands: E. J. Brill Publishing.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Houseknecht, S.K. Voluntary childlessness. Alternative Lifestyles 1, 379–402 (1978). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01082080
- Influential Factor
- Social Policy
- Reference Group
- Basic Concept
- Social Issue