Parenthood as a Moral Imperative? Moral Outrage and the Stigmatization of Voluntarily Childfree Women and Men
- 2.3k Downloads
Nationally representative data indicate that adults in the United States are increasingly delaying the decision to have children or are forgoing parenthood entirely. Although some empirical research has examined the social consequences of adults’ decision to be childfree, few studies have identified explanatory mechanisms for the stigma this population experiences. Based on the logic of backlash theory and research on retributive justice, the present research examined moral outrage as a mechanism through which voluntarily childfree targets are perceived less favorably than are targets with children for violating the prescribed social role of parenthood. In a between-subjects experiment, 197 undergraduates (147 women, 49 men, 1 participant with missing gender data) from a large U.S. Midwestern urban university were randomly assigned to evaluate a male or female married target who had chosen to have zero or two children. Participants completed measures of the target’s perceived psychological fulfillment and their affective reactions to the target. Consistent with earlier studies, voluntarily childfree targets were perceived as significantly less psychologically fulfilled than targets with two children. Extending past research, voluntarily childfree targets elicited significantly greater moral outrage than did targets with two children. My findings were not qualified by targets’ gender. Moral outrage mediated the effect of target parenthood status on perceived fulfillment. Collectively, these findings offer the first known empirical evidence of perceptions of parenthood as a moral imperative.
KeywordsParenthood Gender Childfree Moral outrage Stigma
The author would like to thank Megan Dumka, Scott Hall, Haley Kolp, Kassi Rains, Stacy Slavings, Kelsey Stephens, Jessica Thomas, and Logan Wikoff for their assistance with data collection.
- Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
- CBS/AP (2014, May 7). Dropping birth rates threaten global economic growth. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/dropping-birth-rates-threaten-global-economic-growth/
- Devos, T., Viera, E., Diaz, P., & Dunn, R. (2007). Influence of motherhood on the implicit academic self-concept of female college students: Distinct effects of subtle exposure to cues and directed thinking. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 22, 371–386. doi: 10.1007/BF03173433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Last, J. V. (2013). What to expect when no one’s expecting: America’s coming demographic disaster. New York: Encounter Books.Google Scholar
- Livingston, G., & Cohn, D. (2010). Childlessness up among all women; Down among women with advanced degrees. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/06/25/childlessness-up-among-all-women-down-among-women-with-advanced-degrees/
- Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Osterman, M. J. K., Curtin, S. C., & Mathews, T. J. (2015). Births: Final data for 2013. National Vital Statistics Reports, 64, 1–65.Google Scholar
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).Google Scholar
- Rozin, P., Lowery, L., Imada, S., & Haidt, J. (1999). The CAD triad hypothesis: A mapping between three moral emotions (contempt, anger, disgust) and three moral codes (community, autonomy, divinity). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 574–586. doi: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.114.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Sandler, L., & Witteman, K. (2013). None is enough. Time, 182(7), 38–46.Google Scholar
- Schwartz, S. H., Cieciuch, J., Vecchione, M., Davidov, E., Fischer, R., Beierlein, C., …Konty, M. (2012). Refining the theory of basic individual values. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103, 663-688. doi: 10.1037/a0029393.
- Williams, J. E., & Best, D. L. (1990). Measuring sex stereotypes: A multination study. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar