The Childless Revolution. (Demography)

The Futurist, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

The Childless Revolution. (Demography)


Childlessness is becoming the norm in America, where 43% of women of childbearing age are not bearing children. Families without children surpassed those with children by 1.5% in 1985, and the difference grew to 6.7% in 1999, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Childlessness has grown most notably among older women. The Census Bureau reports that among women 40 to 44 years old childlessness soared to 19%, up from just 10% two decades earlier, despite tremendous recent advances in fertility treatments.

"At its most fundamental level, the emergence of childlessness means that women are seizing the opportunity to be fully realized, self-determined individuals, regardless of what society at large thinks of them," writes Madelyn Cain in her recent book, The Childless Revolution.

Though childlessness may be a statistical norm, American society still struggles to separate femininity from fertility, according to Cain, an English professor and lecturer on women's issues. As a result, Cain says nonmothers are often the objects of misconceptions, scorn, and pity.

The author identifies and describes a variety of factors driving the childless trend, including infertility, inconvenience, or indifference to children in general. The wide range of birth control options and the new generation of emergency contraceptive pills also contribute to fewer women in the maternity ward. Other factors include financial considerations, some evidence that shows the presence of a child lowers the parents' marital happiness, and a decrease in social pressure on today's younger women, according to Cain.

"The society that women grew up in is one more open to allowing individuals to make their own choice, thereby allowing younger, more liberated women to be comfortable with childlessness."

Not all childless women agree with Cain's rosy view, however. At midlife, at least one-third of America's female high-wage earners across various professions are childless--and many wish they weren't, new research by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett reveals. …

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