Portrayal of the Childfree in Textbooks

There is a new bill in California, SB48, that seeks to include “gay and lesbian contributions to our history,”  and “adds religion and physical disability to the list of characteristics for which instructional materials must not ‘reflect adversely’ – just as current law prohibits schools from making negative portrayals on the basis of race, gender or national origin.” This made me wonder: What about negative portrayals on the basis of reproductive choice–

Would this be included in the bill? From what I can tell it is not. I did a little digging on how the childfree have been portrayed in instructional materials, and didn’t find much, except an interesting study published in 2009. Researchers from Louisiana State University looked at attitudes and perceptions of the childfree by doing content analyses of twenty marriage and family textbooks that were published and widely used in undergraduate sociology courses between 1950 and 2000.

In the 50s, called “voluntary childlessness,” textbooks portrayed those who did not have children by choice too “faint at heart” to be “up to the challenge of parenting.”  In the 60s,  the perspective was more tolerant. It was mostly presented in the context of marriage, and made the point that the presence or absence of children was not the thing that predited marital happiness.

In the 70s, the term “childfree” was first used and explained the choice in a positive way from a women’s rights and environmental movement stance. In the 80s, overall, the language used in textbooks had a “tolerant” and “balanced” flavor.

For example, paragraphs began with phrases such as, “Despite many people’s beliefs, couples who choose to remain childless are usually neither frustrated nor unhappy,”  and “That careers are prioritized and childcare is a burden sounds like a masculine motivation <for not having children>, but it isn’t necessarily so.”

Voluntary childlessness showed up less in textbooks in the 90s, but when it did, it tended to continue what the 80s started in terms of dispelling myths associated with some of the myths of not having children by choice.  In contrast to the 50s,  the messaging was more that it was “brave” to go against the norm with this choice.

From this study anyway, it sounds like textbooks have been tended to be more non-judgmental than what the childfree often experience on the ground.

But what about  in the last decade, 2000-2010? How are the childfree portrayed in instructional materials? Teachers, educators anyone out there who has information on this, please write in!

2 thoughts on “Portrayal of the Childfree in Textbooks

  1. I teach U.S. History at the college level and was pleasantly surprised to find my textbook talking about some of the family backgrounds of the men who drafted the U.S. Constitution.

    Most of them were men without children or men with fully grown children. (The irony is that many of the “Founding Fathers” were not actually fathers at the time. In fact, they were less likely, on average, to have children than the rest of the population. George Washington, “The Father of His Country,” had no biological children, a fact that may have actually helped his public career.) The book even suggested that this allowed these men more free time to engage in such long debate and long negotiations over the Constitution. I had never seen anything like that mentioned in any survey text at any level.

    I brought up these facts in class and got a somewhat offended reply from a woman who had previously brought her kids to class, with my permission. She seemed to think I was attacking parenthood and wondered what exactly I was getting at by saying all that.

    1. Scott–Wow, what great information about the founding “fathers”! The offended woman sure didn’t to get the point kids should be exposed to — that you don’t have to have children to make a huge contribution in life, and in this case, to one’s country!

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