The XX Factor

Many Women Just Aren’t Interested in Having Children

Sharon , I have to agree with Kerry that there’s no evidence to suggest that large numbers of women are yearning for children they couldn’t have due to lack of support, and that’s dragging down the levels of happiness. There’s a simple and likely explanation for why the number of women 40 to 44 who are deliberately childless has grown so tremendously. That’s the generation that first came of age when effective contraception and abortion were legal and normalized. Prior generations simply didn’t have the choice to avoid motherhood. Now that the choice is given, we’ve learned large numbers of women will take it.

I’m sure some women would change their mind and have children if they had more support, but I wouldn’t put too much faith in survey responses from childless women about finances or career. Folks who’ve worked in compiling statistics on abortion will be the first to tell you that women who cite “can’t afford a child right now” on a survey for why they’re getting an abortion often put that because it’s easier than admitting what our society tells women they can never admit, which is that they’re not particularly eager to have a baby. In an interview I did with Frances Kissling , she said as much. Many women who have every resource available will say they can’t afford a baby, because it feels true, even if they technically have the resources necessary to raise a child. I’m a willfully childless person, and I’ll admit that I hide behind the financial excuse when asked why I don’t have children.

I’ll also add that I’m not entirely sure that a debate about why women are “sad” reflects the statistical reality. The data that kicked off this discussion doesn’t seem to show a significant enough shift in women’s self-reported happiness to draw any real conclusions. As you can see here , there was not actually any real rise in the number of women who said they were unhappy from the ‘70s until now. All the researchers found was a shift of less than 6 percentage points of women from the “very happy” to the “pretty happy” column. In other words, they’re still happy. A shift this minor probably points to a minor cause; my guess is that sitting in traffic alone could account for the difference. At the most, I’d say feminism has created in women a desire to be more and have more, so they are more likely to suffer disappointments that could move 6 percentage points from one column to another. But so what? Men wouldn’t take kindly to being told to dial down their expectations and demands so 6 percentage points could move from the “pretty happy” to the “very happy” column, and neither should women.

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