INDIANAPOLIS — While not having children may seem like a plainly personal decision, those who choose to eschew parenting altogether may be scorned by society, a new study finds.
Researchers at Indiana University — Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) looked into a potential bias against those who decide against having a child by presenting 197 undergraduate students— 147 of whom were female— with vignettes of individuals who had chosen to either have two or no children. Other than gender, no additional details were provided.
Participants were then instructed to evaluate how they perceived the individual on various dimensions, including the degree to which they likely felt fulfilled on a psychological basis.
Falling in line with other studies, which have found that those who buck societal expectations tend to be shunned, the researchers discovered that the individuals shown to have no children in the vignettes were generally looked at in a negative light.
“What’s remarkable about our findings is the moral outrage participants reported feeling toward a stranger who decided to not have children,” lead researcher Leslie Ashburn-Nardo says in a university release. “Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also as morally wrong.”
Ashburn-Nando expresses that the perception that childless adults feel unfulfilled is likely “driven by feelings of moral outrage — anger, disapproval and disgust — toward the voluntarily child-free people.”
It should be noted that the region and demographics of the study— primarily Midwesterner women— could have swayed the results.
Still, with more Americans than ever choosing to not have children, this research has important indications. Ashburn-Nando hopes to further her research into related topics, seeing whether “voluntarily child-free people suffer [in arenas] such as the workplace or in health care.”
The study was published in the journal Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.