Childless by Choice (Analysis)
 
Estimated Number of Printed Pages: 2
 
TOPICS COVERED: This is a short page on the U.S. media's occasional position that increasing numbers of women are becoming "childless by choice." It's beyond dispute that more women are remaining childless – and that's happening in the U.S and a number of other nations. It's the idea that it's a choice that we aren't too sure about. Granted, her comment was not specifically about the kids she doesn't have, but rather about the fact that she'd never been married, but we think Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice explained it just as well as anyone:
 

"I don’t see these as choices somehow. I see them as the way life has unfolded. I have a tremendously full life."*

 
 
MEMOS ON RELATED INFORMATION: Birth Rate / Fertility / Family Size, Single Parents (analysis), Delaying Marriage
 
Links to Sources for this material are available below. Please also see The Factbook Sources page for further information regarding Factbook sources and their availability.
 
 

PAGE INDEX:

 

THE MEDIA REPORTED "TREND": WOMEN ARE CHOOSING TO BE CHILDLESS

WOMEN CANNOT AFFORD TO HAVE CHILDREN

WOMEN WHO DELAYED HAVING A FAMILY

WOMEN HAVEN'T MADE A CHOICE

 
 
THE TREND AS IDENTIFIED IN MASS MEDIA:
 
Increasing numbers of women are choosing to remain childless.
 
 
HOW THEY GET IT WRONG:
 
Point 1: The "trend" ignores those who cannot afford to have children.
 
Of the articles that we examined, the vast majority of the articles which claimed there was a growing number of women who were choosing to remain childless, the articles frequently focused on upper-class, educated, professional women. These women could afford to have a child, but chose not to, because of their other interests. However, few of these articles discussed the women who desperately wanted a child, but could not afford to have a family.
 
Germany's well-known for its low birth rate – but discussions of that in popular media don't always reflect the fact because of a very high unemployment rate, that many of its young adults are emigrating to other nations for work. If that's the case, it's not surprising that women aren't having children. (And there, it may not be just the economics, but the mobility of its younger population that's also a factor.)
 
In fact, the impact of the economy shouldn't be underestimated. Birth rates plummeted during the Depression, because no one could afford children. And, while the percentage of women childless has increased, in an economic environment that is much more favorable than the Depression, the cost of raising a child has skyrocketed in the intervening decades.
 
 
 
Point 2: The "trend" ignores those who can't have children because they waited too long to have a family.
 
Particularly in articles in the early to mid- 1980s, media attention was focused on the women were delaying having children because they were getting an education, working or both. These articles were often enthralled with the new scientific advances in fertility treatments and obstetrics, which would allow these women to wait to have children until their 30s or even 40s.
 
Unfortunately, the scientific advances – while tremendous – haven't fulfilled these earlier promises. And some women have found out too late that they cannot, in fact, have children.
 
 
 
Point 3: The "trend" ignores the fact that it isn't always a "choice."
 
The articles usually have taken a small subset of women without children – usually whites with professions – and said that they are indicative of a movement.
 
The articles usually don't consider other ongoing concerns – like family finances.
 
Women who delay marriage because of education and career may not have found a spouse yet – and therefore haven't had a child on their own.
 
The articles don't consider other obstacles to childlessness – such as already being a caregiver to a family member. In some cultures, a family usually expected one daughter to be childless, so that she would stay to take care of the parents as they age. As families get smaller, that daughter may be the only child they have. Then what?
 
Overall, there's a myth of choice. The premise is that a woman chooses to be childless early on, and makes good on that goal. But it's very difficult to determine who actually did not want to have children, and those who ended up childless through a series of events or circumstance. Or those who had planned on having a family but decided at some point to give up on the idea because of intervening life events.
 
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* _______, "Perspectives," Newsweek, citing CNN.com, Associated Press, Fox News, CNN.com, New York Times, Associated Press, German Television via AFP, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, p. 23 (May 2, 2005). Archived at: http://www.highbeam.com/library/doc3.asp?DOCID=1G1:131898969