Since the 1970s, the rate of women who choose not to have children has doubled. Ida Dupont, PhD, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology on Pace’s NYC Campus, has spent the last few years examining this trend and interviewing women, men, and couples from various backgrounds in an attempt to puzzle out why some people choose to remain childfree.
“I’m having a difficult time giving a name to what I’m researching,” Dupont says. “‘Childless’ has a negative connotation and if I say ‘childfree by choice’ it sounds as though we’re trying to escape children.” Dupont has focused her research on how people who choose not to have children are perceived by the community (and the inclusion or exclusion that comes with that), as well as what puts them on this particular path.
“We talk about choice in very different ways. As Americans, we’re free to do what we want. With that comes the realism of limitations,” says Dupont. “A lot of people who choose not to have children value parenting, but they don’t feel up to the task. They don’t want to bring a child into a difficult world, there are monetary issues—for them, it is a rational decision.”
Another small subgroup of adults reported to Dupont that they chose to not have children because of the environmental impact having a child would create. “This was something that came up often enough to be noticed. They weren’t just outliers. They were concerned with diapers and toys and other things that came with having a child. This really struck me,” she says.
For others, however, the choice to remain childfree was one that seemed almost intrinsic. As she conducted her research, she began to note a trend of women who reported not feeling maternal instincts. “These women would say that even as children they felt different. They didn’t play with dolls and so on,” says Dupont. “I had expected these women to be cold, but that wasn’t the case. They had close relationships with people, they gave back to their communities, and most had a great love of animals.”
Both men and women who chose to remain childfree often felt pressure exerted upon them. For men, there was familial pressure to carry on the family legacy, as well as the perception that they were suffering from Peter Pan syndrome. And both men and women alike were perceived as selfish for their choice. However, “Women have their identities wrapped in motherhood,” says Dupont. “Women without children are seen as lacking. They have to work to construct a feminine identity that is separate from being a mother…There was one woman who told me ‘If I could be a 1950s hands-off father, I’d consider it.’ Can you imagine?”
The interplay between gender and identity is an area of great interest for Dupont. “I’d like to use my research to write a book, preferably something not academic and more accessible. I think this is something people can really relate to.”