People tend to get really put out by the idea of complete strangers choosing not to have kids, according to a study published recently in Sex Roles.
Think Transylvanian peasants with torches. Or “Dr. Phil” audiences when the topic is “Sassy 14-Year-Olds Who Think They’re Smarter Than You.”
Leslie Ashburn-Nardo of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis had a crew of undergrad psych students tell study participants that they were researching people’s intuition and how well they can predict the future. Participants were then told a story about married adults. In some versions of the story, the adults had children. In others, they did not. Sometimes the story was about a married woman and sometimes about a married man.
Participants displayed “significantly greater moral outrage” toward all adults — men and women — who chose not to have children. “In other words,” the author concluded, “not having children is seen not only as atypical but also as wrong.”
The study suggests that having kids is seen as a moral imperative, and failing to fulfill expected roles justifies backlash. So: “If you don’t have kids, you’re not normal and I get to judge you for it.”
Except not having kids is becoming increasingly more normal. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, in 2014, 47.6 percent of women ages 15-44 had never had children. This was up from 46.5 percent in 2012 and the highest rate since the Census began tracking that sort of thing in 1976.
Obviously, many of those women will eventually become moms. Many because that’s what they really want. Yay! But sadly, others will become parents simply because that’s what is expected of them. I worry for those women. I worry more for the kids they will have.
Some will work it out (again: yay!), but others will become the headlines that make us gasp. Or they will quietly, desperately spend their lives being miserable and making their children miserable.
I can’t read hearts and minds. I have no idea which person will have which experience with parenting. But if someone tells me that having kids isn’t for them, I think it’s wise to trust that.
I’ve been there
I’ve been on both sides. I was married nearly 10 years before I had kids. I got the judging looks and questions from people who had no business speculating on my uterus’ to-do list.
And when the time seemed right, we had kids. I don’t regret that choice for a second.
I’m glad I waited, though. Having kids in my 20s would not have been a smart move for so many reasons. And if I had never chosen to have kids, I think I would have been perfectly happy with my life.
Not having kids (right now or even ever) isn’t a moral outrage. Sometimes, it’s just being self-aware and responsible.