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A critical review of the interdisciplinary literature on voluntary childlessness

Clarke, Victoria; Hayfield, Nikki; Moller, Naomi; Braun, Virginia


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Dr Victoria Clarke
Associate Professor in Qualitative & Critical Psychology

Naomi Moller

Virginia Braun


This chapter provides a critical review of the inter-disciplinary research on voluntary childlessness, examining some of the problematic assumptions that underpin the literature and the image of the childfree woman that emerges as a result. It is not intended as a comprehensive overview of this literature, but rather a feminist engagement with the frameworks and ideology that shape and limit it. One of the reasons why the motives, characteristics, and personality of women who choose to be childfree have been of interest to researchers is because there is a social assumption that having children is a natural human instinct. Pronatalist social ideologies frame parenting as deeply fulfilling, essential for human happiness and a meaningful life, and a marker of a successful adulthood (Morison et al.; Moller and Clarke). Furthermore, there is a social equation of motherhood and femininity, a ‘motherhood imperative’ (Giles et al.; Gillespie, “When No Means No”), or ‘motherhood mandate’ (Russo), that results in a social expectation that all women naturally desire motherhood. In this chapter, we explore assumptions relating to pronatalism and coercive pronatalism, fixed categories, women’s social responsibility for reproduction, and heteronormativity, and show how feminist researchers have begun to problematise some of the pronatalist and arguably racist, heteronormative and sexist assumptions underpinning voluntary childlessness research. We conclude by outlining a framework for future research that avoids perpetuating these problematic assumptions and the associated view of childfree women as regretful, lonely and depressed.

Publication Date Feb 1, 2021
Deposit Date Sep 19, 2019
Pages 29-54
Book Title The Truth about (M)otherhood: Choosing to be Childfree
ISBN 9781772582840
Public URL
Publisher URL
Contract Date Sep 19, 2019