New Data on Childlessness Part III: Race & Ethnicity

Now on to Part III regarding new data on the numbers of childless women put out by the Pew Research Center, (based mainly on combined 2006-2008 data  from the June fertility supplement of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey). Next: Race and Ethnicity.

In 1998,  a census study reported that percent of childlessness for white and black women aged 40-44 that had ever been married was..

..about the same–20 percent. Regardless of marital status, Latinos had lower levels of childlessness than both white and black groups. The current Pew study indicates that:

Since 1994, rates of childlessness for black and Hispanic women rose by more than 30 percent–for whites, rates rose 11 percent.

Twenty percent of  white women ages 40-44 were childless in 2008. For black and Hispanic women it was 17 percent. Asian women — 16 percent.

So since the mid to late 90s, the “racial gap has narrowed.”

Reasons?  My first thought is back to the education variable. The more educated, the more women of any ethnicity realize they have choices in life. Of any ethnicity, if women put off having children, they may end up just not having them.

Yale researchers Natalie Nitsche and Hannah Brueckner say it can be more than putting it off; black women face a series of challenges navigating education, career, marriage and child-bearing that often leave them single and childless even when they’d prefer marriage and family.  They indicate that “marriage chances for highly educated black women have declined over time relative to white women.”

Contrary to some myths, most educated, professional women who want to marry do marry. But the picture is less bright for high-achieving black women because their “marriage markets” aren’t great. We have a strong tendency to marry someone of our educational level, and this can be hard for black women to find this is in a black man–highy educated black women outnumber highly educated black men. And Nitsche and Brueckner say black women are reluctant to marry outside their race. Top it off with the pressure of not becoming a single mother, they often end up going childless.

But Nadra Kareen at thinks there are different attitudes about childless women of different races.  She thinks that while the media is not that hard on childless white women, the media often is when it comes to single, educated black women.  “The media has also told us that black women are romantically undesirable, too educated and successful for black men and unwilling or unable to pair up with non-blacks.”  She describes highly educated black women as often seen as “grievous anomalies.”

In addition to media generated perceptions, I know from interviewing couples for Families of Two that negative attitudes also stem from cultural considerations. In Hispanic culture, not having children by choice is seen very negatively. I was able to find childfree Hispanic couples to interview but all but one was willing to talk publicly and be included in the book. While the childless numbers for Hispanic women has risen (I recall in 2000 it was 1 in about 11 Hispanic women were childless), my hunch is it remains very judged within the culture.

While the numbers are rising over time across ethnicities, negative perceptions remain across and within race. Some are more general across race, such myths related to being selfish, immature and kid-haters. Others are sociologically and culturally specific. Regardless, they’re so often inaccurate and unfair characterizations and judgments!

What do you see out there not having children (by choice and not) across race?

3 thoughts on “New Data on Childlessness Part III: Race & Ethnicity

  1. Why is this blog called Families of Two? Can’t someone be single and child-free? Here I was glad to find a place where I wouldn’t be judged for not having kids, but I see I’m still judged for being single.

    1. Hi — I only call it Families of Two a decade later as a reference to the title of my book, Families of Two. I definitely do not want it to be a place where only childfree couples go–want it to be a go to place for all childfree and not, really. Want it to be a place where childfree issues can be discussed by all, and that definitely includes people like you! So keep writing! ~L

  2. I agree you on the fact that the hispanic culture views the choice to be child free very negatively. My husband and I are in our early 30’s and have decided that while we love children, that is not enough to actually bring them into the world. I am so shocked sometimes that our families take so much offense to this, and at the rude/hurtful comments we receive every single time someone hears about our decision. I truly wish more and more people in my culture would understand it is a choice and not an obligation to have children.

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