Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist, recently conducted a survey of 1,200 American women, looking at the pressures they get to have children and the levels of distress they experience from not having children. The survey’s findings reinforce the influence of pronatalism in American culture, but also could it also point to a step toward a post-pronatal society?
According to McQuillan, “Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers …yet we also found that there are women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children.”
Many women may still believe that their identity is so closely tied to motherhood, but for many other women this is not the case.
The study found that women with no children, by choice or not, do get pressure to have children. This is no surprise in our pronatalist society. The Baby Matrix takes a detailed look at this, and give effective strategies for dealing with these pressures.
But what about distress they feel as a result of that pressure? The study showed that “influence from others to have children was associated with distress only if the women considered motherhood important.” Women who were involuntarily childless because of biomedical reasons put the highest importance on motherhood, and had the highest distress.”
In other words, the women who did not want children may have experienced pressure from others to have children, but this did not cause them distress.
There is a good deal of ink out there with the interpretation that childfree women don’t stress over their choice not to have kids – the way I read the study it is more linked to their experience of distress as it relates to pressure from others and society.
This study is purportedly the first to closely examine reasons behind not having children and their “social effects” on women. The results that relate to childfree women reflect a positive social effect, and point to some cracking in pronatalist social and cultural conditioning.
McQuillan indicates that this result of the study raises “questions about what room there is in American culture for women to have successful, fulfilling lives without being mothers.” Many women, and men for that matter, already know there is plenty of room for this. They see beyond the old, outmoded and untrue pronatalist Fulfillment Assumption to a post-pronatal one that speaks the truth: parenthood is but one way to find fulfillment in life.