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Childfree couples' experiences of stereotyping, harassment and pressure

This qualitative study is about New Zealand couples who, by choice, do not have children. Strong social norms exist for couples to have children, and those who express a desire to do otherwise have been disbelieved, pressured, and stereotyped. Womanhood has continued to be associated with motherhood, and a maternal instinct is expected to drive women to have children. The aim of this research was to add to knowledge and awareness of how childfree people have experienced being stereotyped, pressured and harassed for being childfree. For this research, I conjointly interviewed ten heterosexual, childfree couples residing in the city of Hamilton. Participants self-identified as childfree, and ranged in age from 23 to 56 years old. Five of the couples also participated in a focus group. Participants related the ways in which they perceived that the wider social context played a role in the negative responses they experienced. Participants revealed how they felt less socially valued through: an idealization of parenthood, exclusion from work benefits, and an expectation that women should manage both employment and motherhood. Stereotyping was found to still occur, with participants reporting that they were labelled as selfish, immature, and anti-children. Stereotypes of being destined for loneliness in later life, and of their pets being substitutes for children were common. Some evidence was found in participants' comments that there were elements of truth in stereotypes of the childfree. The negative stereotyping appeared to have little, if any, impact on how participants viewed or felt about themselves. Participants reported feeling harassed by other people's disbelief in their choice, and assumptions, that despite what they said, everybody wanted children. The pressures experienced by participants took various forms, such as persistent questioning, and came from various sources, including siblings and acquaintances. Participants' reports of feeling pressured or harassed seem to reflect minor and fleeting feelings, rather than a continuing concern. How pressuring comments were perceived by the recipient was very context-dependent. Participants tolerated and coped with people's negative responses by various methods, such as confronting, ignoring, and avoiding the topic of children with certain people. I recommend that further research be done, and that work is needed to promote both acceptance of the childfree option, and freedom of women's identification from association with childbearing.
Type of thesis
Riley, T. M. (2008). Childfree couples’ experiences of stereotyping, harassment and pressure (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2353
The University of Waikato
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