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Women without children: Challenging gender stereotypes

Women’s fertility choices have long been subject to public scrutiny. Despite progressive social changes that have granted women more freedom in their lives in terms of education, relationships, and career, there still exists the expectation that all women want to become mothers, and if they are able, will have children. However, the reality is that childlessness is on the rise in many developed countries, including Australia, Britain, the United States, and Canada. Estimates of the percentage of permanently childless women range from 13 percent in Australia, 15 percent in Canada, and 17 – 20 percent in the United States. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, it is estimated that a quarter of women in their childbearing years will remain childless. 

Despite these statistics, remaining childless is still socially taboo – whether a woman ends up childless by choice or circumstance. While it would be considered socially inappropriate in most circles to ask a women how much she weighs or how much she earns, it is still very common for childless women in their 30s and 40s to be asked if, and when they are planning to have children, or why they haven’t had children. However inappropriate, such questions may leave a woman feeling like she has to justify her childlessness.

As noted by Sarah Rainey in her article on childlessness,

“When a woman reaches a certain age, she is expected to start thinking about having children. If she doesn’t, society demands an answer. But why doesn’t she have children, people will whisper. Isn’t she able to have children? Doesn’t she want children?”

Says Sue Fagalde Lick, author of “Childless by Marriage”,

“The expectation is that they will marry and have children…If they don’t, everyone wants to know what’s wrong with them.”

Award-winning actress, Helen Mirren, has been open and unapologetic about not having children of her own. Says 67 year old Mirren, “It was not my destiny…I kept thinking it would be, waiting for it to happen, but it never did, and I didn’t care what people thought.” She says she’s tired of having to explain her choice not to have children, and believes that women should not be judged for, or made to feel badly about, not becoming a mother.  

To read more about this issue click here and here.

To read more about living child-free, click here, here and here.

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