Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Rules-Based Process of Revealing/concealing the Family Planning Decisions of Voluntarily Child-Free Couples: A Communication Privacy Management Perspective

Academic journal article Communication Studies

The Rules-Based Process of Revealing/concealing the Family Planning Decisions of Voluntarily Child-Free Couples: A Communication Privacy Management Perspective

Article excerpt

Over the last few decades, researchers have started to focus on the incidence (Paul, 2001; Thornton & Young-DeMarco, 2001) and characteristics (Clausen, 2002; Ganong, Coleman, & Mapes, 1990; Heaton & Jacobson, 1999; Morrell, 1993; Park, 2002) of couples who willingly remain child flee. The growing academic interest in voluntary childlessness parallels the growth of this phenomenon within the United States, as the number of those choosing to remain childless has nearly doubled from over 2% in 1982 to almost 5% in 1995 (Paul, 2001). However, within this growing corpus of literature, little has been discovered about how voluntarily child-free (VCF) couples disclose their child-flee decision to members of their social network. Park (2002) claimed that couples perceive their intentional childlessness as a potential point of contention with social network members (e.g., family and friends) because most United States Americans believe that married heterosexual couples should reproduce; an ideology referred to hereafter as pronatalism (Veevers, 1980). Because VCF couples do not adhere to the widely held pronatalistic beliefs of United States culture, they may be stigmatized on both cultural and relational levels if their family-planning decision is revealed.

The purpose of this study is to examine how members of VCF couples reveal or conceal their family-planning status to others in their social network. A communication privacy management (CPM) perspective (Petronio, 2002) is employed to understand and to explain how members of VCF couples engage in disclosures that reveal their family-planning status.CPM has been used as a fruitful theoretical framework for scholars who have studied the revealing and concealing of potentially stigmatizing information (e.g., Petronio, Reeder, Hecht, & Mon't Ros-Mendoza, 1996; Yep, 2000). Bearing in mind that the revelation of a voluntary child-flee decision can often lead to negative and perhaps even stigmatizing reactions from others, CPM represents the most beneficial theoretical backdrop for this study. Therefore, in the present study, I explore how members of VCF couples evaluate the perceived risk involved in making unsolicited revelations of their child-flee decision. In the sections that follow, I first discuss the stigma facing many who choose to remain child free and how this stigma has been characterized in previous research. Second, I discuss how researchers have previously used communication privacy management (Petronio, 2002) to describe and to understand how disclosers reveal information emanating from major life decisions to those in their social network.

The Stigma of the Voluntarily Child Free

VCF couples do not have stigmatized identities because they are childless; instead, they are stigmatized because they "choose" to remain childless. According to Gangong, Coleman, and Mapes (1990), society, in general, does not perceive childfree couples as more negative or positive based on their parental status. Rather, there is a marked difference in how society views VCF couples in comparison with parents and infertile families. Park (2002) claimed, "those who are childless by choice are stigmatized by their blemished characters, while the sterile or infertile are stigmatized by their physical abnormalities" (pp. 30-31). In other words, people are likely to perceive VCF couples as suffering from character flaws, as opposed to pitying or sympathizing with infertile couples (Ganong, Coleman, & Mapes, 1990).

Individuals who choose to remain child free often are labeled with negative and emotionally charged labels by family, friends, clergy, and researchers. According to Somers (1993), "throughout the literature, this group [VCF couples] is viewed negatively and labeled as selfish, maladjusted, unhappy, hedonistic, irresponsible, immature, abnormal, and unnatural" (p. 643). Consequently, VCF couples often must respond to questions that threaten their child-free identities. …

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