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Stop the Presses: There are Married Women Who Aren’t Having Children

I don’t want to freak you out, but did you know that there are women — like human women — who are either infertile or choosing not to have children?  I know this is probably going to come as a shock, and I’ll give you a moment to collect yourself.  Please don’t go running through the wall, creating a you-shaped hole in the plaster.  There’s no need to panic, really.  Because… you know… 7 billion person world population to limited resources and all that.

The LA Times reported last week that more married US women are not having children.  The subtitle for the article is “Among married American women, having no children is still rare, but it has become less so as ideas about why to marry have changed.”

You need to get six paragraphs down until you get to any mention of what role infertility may play in the trend: “Federal statistics on older women suggest some found themselves unable to have children, while others chose not to have them.”

It only suggests it.  That 7.3 million statistic, or 12.5% of the childbearing-age population maybe has something to do with the number of childless married women rising from 4.5% in 1988 to 6% in 2010.

The rest of the article points at changing views on marriage as the reason for the increase.  And that’s certainly a possibility.  After all, advances in fertility treatments and perfecting the ones that existed in 1988 should have an affect on that number, even if the rate of infertility has increased over those two-plus decades.  But I can’t help but feel that infertility plays a larger role than the single sentence in this article suggests.  Suggests.  See, there’s that word again.  It’s a word that forgives all sins.  You can sort of say anything, throw in “suggests” and no one is accountable.

All sarcasm aside, I wish there were mentions in these articles that living child-free after infertility is a viable (and perhaps more common-than-reported) option to resolving infertility, and it has little to do with how much the person wants to parent and more to do with how the person needs to process or deal with their infertility.  I’d love a study that reports reasons for not continuing on with family building: the depression and anxiety that can accompany treatments, a lack of desire to pursue a particular path, the financial concerns, the inability to find a doctor to treat the infertility, rejection from adoption programs.  There are dozens of reasons for why a person opts to resolve their infertility via living child-free.  I would love a big, juicy, LA Times article following hundreds of women who resolve without living children, trying to discern the many reasons why they are part of that 6% statistic.

Since there is sort of nothing crappier than being an invisible reality inside a visible number.


1 chickenpig { 12.17.13 at 8:09 am }

I am totally in shock! (pouring on the sarcasm). In my family, choosing to not have children, or only one child, is the norm not the exception. When my husband and I were struggling with infertility no one ever mentioned the fact that we were child free, and there weren’t any other kids around to rub our noses in it either. Out of the 6 kids in my husband’s family only him and one brother chose to have children. Neither of his 2 sisters are married or have any interest in kids. Which is totally fine. Infertility may take it’s part, but I think it is far more complicated than that. I think many women of our generation have become disillusioned with the whole idea of happily ever after, with a loyal hubby,2.3 kids, and a good job. Marriages fall apart, good jobs are hard to come by and the salaries suck, and homes get foreclosed on. Then they find the right guy, they have a great job, but they are 38 and their new husband has 2 grown kids and a vasectomy. If only our fertility was in the 21st century and not the middle ages 🙂

2 Rach { 12.17.13 at 8:12 am }

I always struggle with this when I see articles on being child free. They always portray it as “living the dream” (expensive trips, sleeping in, nice things…etc.) but they rarely mention those who actually can’t have children. Those who tried for years and years, lost almost everything, and then waved their white flags. It’s brutal because then, people always assume, we’re just one of the first group and it never crosses their mind that maybe someone is from the latter group. It’s like we’re completely invisible.

3 Orodemniades { 12.17.13 at 9:21 am }

I’d looooooove to see the racial breakdown of this study.

4 Alexicographer { 12.17.13 at 9:46 am }

@Orodemniades you can get a quick overview of that here, though the reported breakdowns list “by race/ethnicity” and “by marital status” separately, so you won’t see how those things are intersecting —
http://ncfmr.bgsu.edu/pdf/family_profiles/file140559.pdf .

Those wanting more detailed information should probably look at Infertility and Impaired Fecundity in the United States, 1982–2010: Data From the National Survey of Family Growth, which tells us that, “Using women aged 22–29 who have had a child as the reference group, nulliparous women were generally more likely to have infertility or impaired fecundity. Nulliparous women aged 35–44 were at least three times as likely as parous women aged 22–29 to have impaired fecundity. For infertility, a more pronounced association with age was seen among nulliparous women, with adjusted odds of infertility increasing from 2.38 for those aged 22–29 to nearly 13 for those aged 40–44.” You can find the full text here: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr067.pdf

As for getting this sort of information reported in the LA Times and similar? I’m not going to hold my breath.

5 nicoleandmaggie { 12.17.13 at 10:15 am }

Yeah, I was gonna say what Alexicographer said– the NSFG is a great place to look for these issues. It is a small survey (compared to say, the census), but it asks very detailed questions about fertility. Much of the work that you’re asking for is done using that survey.

6 fifi { 12.17.13 at 10:16 am }

This sentence from the article jumped out at me: “A Pew Research Center survey three years ago found that Americans rated love, lifelong commitment and companionship as more important reasons to wed than having children.”

Um… good! I’d be worried if “having children” was a more important reason to wed than love and commitment. It’s love and commitment that get you through the hard times, whether you have children or not.

7 loribeth { 12.17.13 at 7:46 pm }

I’m actually surprised they even mentioned infertility at all. Rach is right. Most articles about childless/free women seem to focus on those who are childfree by choice, or single ( = haven’t had the opportunity to get pregnant). There are no in betweens. Because everyone knows that if you’re a married woman who wants to have children but doesn’t, you must not have wanted it enough to make it happen, right? :p

8 kateanon { 12.18.13 at 12:50 pm }

Deciding on being childfree is rarely treated as an option. It seems more like the general population (and even some of the IF world) thinks that it’s just what happens when you give up. It isn’t viewed as something you choose because you can’t go through more cycles emotionally, financially or physically. The assumption is that all women want to get married and have children, and the anomaly is the ones that don’t, when there’s so many more branches of that tree. Those who can’t have kids, those who tried and failed, those who are unsure, or whose partner doesn’t want to, those who want to but haven’t had the opportunity, or have work or finances preventing them from starting a family. Plus more I haven’t even covered, but those are harder to write stories about.

9 Jamie { 12.19.13 at 7:40 pm }

Thank you for this post and thank you to those who commented, too. Childless not by choice can feel isolating. But I hope that I may have an opportunity to have a child someday. But, finding a loving, commuted partner to share in this journey is more important to me.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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