The Politics of Choice: Women’s Experiences of Deciding to Be Childfree

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Luchenski, Jamie N.
childfree, childless, women, nuclear family, feminism, intersectionality, neoliberalism
This study explores the experiences of childfree women and examines how they navigate the choice not to have children and how they understand their decision in relation to western societal norms and cultural expectations. I bring attention to how the personal decisions and experiences of childfree women are influenced by prevailing social norms. The purpose of this research was to explore the following questions: (1) How do women navigate and understand their choice to be childfree? (2) What do women believe an intentionally childfree life looks like? and (3) Do different women experience the pressures to have children differently? How? I conducted interviews with 13 intentionally childfree, heterosexual women between the ages of 20 and 40. I then used a feminist, intersectional theoretical lens to analyze the data. My findings indicated that gendered social expectations for women’s lives are upheld by various social structures that have an impact on women’s decisions to be childfree. While these expectations are placed on all women, there is variability in women’s experiences related to factors including, but not limited to, religious affiliation and racial or ethnic identity. I also found that childfree women desire community and benefit from spaces where they can be validated for their decision and learn more about the implications of being childfree. They also hope that open dialogue about the possibility of being childfree will normalize this decision for women. I found that while women recognize that their decision to be childfree places them outside of the social norm of what is typically expected of women, they rarely seem to challenge the social structures which limit their choices, turning instead to individual level solutions. I conclude that to grant women full access to the choice to be childfree, feminist social movements ought to focus on women’s liberation not only in terms of reproductive autonomy, but also by challenging the nuclear family and some of the broader structures that hold it in place, like neoliberal capitalism.
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