The BBC Does Childless by Choice

On July 28th, BBC radio’s Woman’s Hour did a show on women who are childless by choice in the UK and Europe.

Dr. Catherine Hakim, Senior Fellow at the London School of Economics, baby coach Beth Follini, writer Cristina Odone and Melanie Notkin, the creator of SavvyAuntie discuss some of the usual topics on the childfree, but make a number of interesting points, especially when you compare it to what’s happening in the United States. Here are 10 points that stand out:

  • 10% of women in Europe between the ages of 25-45 report being voluntarily childless (and excludes those who are “parents by proxy”). 25%of women in Germany are childess by choice. In the States, the closest we have based on research is 6% of women aged 35-44 who are voluntarily childless.
  • How much does economics drive the choice? Hakin says not at all–the choice is distributed across the “social spectrum.”  This is different than what some research says in the States, particularly in times of recession.
  • Is there still a stigma associated with being childfree? Hakin says that it’s a question of generation and age, and that the stigma is gone now.  Do you think the stigma is totally gone now in the States?
  • The decrease in fertility is not due to not wanting children, it is due more to people having smaller families.  Being childfree is “a separate phenomenon.”
  • According to Notkin, July 25th is “Auntie Day” — who knew?!
  • 40-50% of commenters on SavvyAuntie are childfree (as opposed to” aunties” who want kids but do not have them)
  • A certain “kind” of woman says no to motherhood: includes things such as being an “alpha” woman,” a fear of ramifications to their career, fear of the lack of freedom, fear of the loss of opportunity, fear of the loss of their identity to motherhood, and/or a fear of falling short of being the “ideal” mother. CF women out there, which if any would you say are true for you? I see that these can be true but certainly not a given. How about just the lack of desire to be a mother?
  • Women still feel they need to choose between their career and being a “caring, nurturing mom”–one or the other.  The message  is you can’t have/be both. Do you see this here?
  • There are women that have regrets that they did not have children, e.g, never met the right person at the right time. Do you think there are more women who fall into this category in the States than those who chose not to merely because they never wanted them?
  • It is not just a matter of biological urge–there are huge social and psychological influences are powerful motivators as well;  “our minds are engaged much more than we give it credit for”–amen!

I love seeing pieces like this. It reminds us that the childfree phenomenon is not just in the United States, but in many other countries around the world. It’s worth a listen for sure!

11 thoughts on “The BBC Does Childless by Choice

  1. Women forgo motherhood because we’re all paralyzed by fear? That’s not condescending at all, is it?

    I also always bristle at the idea of how, as childfree women, if we don’t want kids of our own, we need to find some other “maternal” outlet, like being good aunties and that since we don’t have kids, then “owe” it to those who have kids to help ease their burden. Hey, it’s great if you want to be the cool auntie, but I wonder how many do the auntie thing because of social pressure and not because they genuinely enjoy doing it?

    1. The fear thing makes me brissle too…good question about being cool auntie–me–it depends on the kid. I don’t feel social pressure and love being the auntie to friends’ kids that I connect with and that’s not a given. Love to hear from cf aunties–do you feel pressure to do this? ~L

  2. For me, it really is a lack of desire to have children. The idea of motherhood has never been appealing to me, and I’ve never understood why so many people believe it is just a given that all women want children, especially if they’re married. I also agree with Pheona, I have no desire to be an invovled aunt. I really don’t enjoy the company of children, and don’t feel compelled to fake it. I think there are probably a lot more women that feel this way than let on, because it is frowned upon. No, I don’t think the stigma associated with being childfree is gone in the U.S. But, as more people are choosing this path, surely it will lessen more with time. I actually feel like we’ve discovered a great secret that so many couples have failed to see, and my husband and I are fully enjoying our freedom! I really enjoy your writing, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thanks, Jacinda~I wonder if we could survey all the childfree women how many would say they do not like kids, and some really do enjoy them, and those in between and why. Like I mentioned, I tend to enjoy some not others, especially as they grow up. A minority of couples I interviewed for Fo2 said they really did not like kids, majority like me –some yes, some no, and some liking the auntie/uncle thing depending on the kid. Since then I continue to talk to many many CF and overall it seems the same trend. Maybe sometimes it’s not so much like/not liking kids because they are kids (well with the exception when they very young, babies, etc) but the person, albeit young, but connecting to the kid..or not. ~L

  3. @Phoena – lol! This article almost implies that childfree women would be afraid of their own shadow! They do make prescription drugs to combat fears, but I’m inclined to think we’re not fearful of anything!

    @Laura – To follow-up on your comments regarding liking children and enjoying being the cool auntie. I have a 3-yr old niece who lives close by (she’s my only niece/nephew). I adore her and enjoy seeing her, esp. noticing how she’s changed from one visit to the next. I only see her about once a month, sometimes just for a few minutes because of everyone’s busy schedules. I also enjoy hearing about what my cousin’s children are doing, esp as they get older into high school and college, i.e. what they’re studying, sports they’re playing, educational trips they take around the world, where they’re living, etc. I could care less about the children of co-workers or casual acquaintances. None of my close friends have children (which is probably why they’re close friends – because they have the time to invest in adult relationships). Certainly, I do NOT feel pressure to like a kid, or pretend that I do. I either do I don’t, and it’s usually based on whether it’s family or not.

    This reminds me …. on a semi-unrelated subject – I’m very happy and proud to report that I’m a 40-something woman who has never changed a diaper in her life! 🙂

  4. Just today I was with friends and their 2-kids. I said, “Adam, you didnt see this on your radar 5 yrs ago.” and he agree it wasnt but said, “Yeah but when you come home from a bad day and they’re there, it’s all better. Think about it.” I do and it’s called a beer 🙂

    I have changed diapers but a LONG time ago! I too have a 3-yr old niece but live opposite coasts from her. I would love to be the cool auntie but settle for postcards and such. I miss her.

  5. TThis article neglects the fact that some women are also socially responsible and environmentally aware for reasons not wanting children. This world is over-populated enough, and there’s few enough resources to those already here. I certainly would hate to bring a poor child into this world of biodiversity loss, climate change and religious zealots.

    1. It is possible that the BBC piece did attend to the population reason for not having children. I recall listening to the show, and picking 10 things as summary points in the post. But if they Had brought it up I am certain that would have been one of them….so yes, maybe they did not address it. I find that the childfree who explain their decision as related to not wanting to bring children into the world as it is today often, when you get down to it, don’t have a big emotional desire to be a parent to begin with. Those who Really want kids are more likely to believe that if they bring kids into the world, their kids can be part of the solution to the world’s problems…… Our rationales follow heart’s desires in so many cases. ~L

  6. I have made a career out of working with infants, toddlers and preschool children. I express my ‘maternal instincts’ almost everyday. I love it! I can love, protect, guide, and be involved in their little lives, and also hand them back at the end of the day! HA! Best of both worlds.

    There can be many internal and external reasons for a person to want or not want to bring another into this world. Sometimes life events change in ways that you would have never thought…and then you may find the choice made for you.

    The most important thing that I had to do was grieve the idea of giving birth to my own biological child. It took many small steady deeply-felt steps in the grief process to be able to let go of that ideal that I held so dear.

    I am now involved with taking classes to become a foster parent.;-) Life works itself out….in one way or another.

    1. Cheryl, Thanks for writing. I love how you have found a way to have the maternal experience outside of “motherhood.” A great example of the many ways to mother….I hear from many women who have made the grief journey from child”less” to child “free” — you are not alone on that one..I recently read of an innovative foster care organization–they were just profiled in Newsweek: Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition. fyi: ~L

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