‘I was looking for something different and I found it’ : A constructivist grounded theory study with women who choose not to have children
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Increasing numbers of women are defying societal expectations and choosing not to have children. At the same time, their choices remain shrouded in disapproval and silence. Despite significant cultural changes and the influences of the feminist movement, the idea that womanhood equates with motherhood endures. The aims of this study were to critically understand why women choose not to have children and to consider the consequences of their choices on their lives. Twenty-two women aged between 40 and 75, from across England, Scotland, and Wales participated in this constructivist grounded theory study. All women were educated to degree level or higher and came from a range of social class backgrounds. Drawing from interviews with participants, this study presents three key findings to inform a sociological understanding of this topic. First, the findings reveal that participants’ choices not to have children are best understood as part of a complex interplay between restraining and liberating experiences in their lives. Social class also had a significant influence on their life experiences and subsequently on their choices. Their choices not to have children were formed within a specific social context and from the complex interplay of their personal and social experiences within an unequal world. Second, participants feel they are perceived as women of ‘lesser value’. This positioning is expressed through negative language, stereotyping, and reinforced in families, communities, and workplaces. This finding reveals the dominant societal gendered expectations that womanhood and motherhood are synonymous. It exposes a culture of silence, motherarchal ideas, and the societal practices that sustain it. Third, participants do not regret their choices. This finding challenges the myth that women who make this choice will experience regret and that motherhood and family is the only haven for fulfilment. This finding submits that a choice for non-motherhood is a choice for a different life that offers multiple possibilities. Taken together, the findings support previous and current research. They also raise important issues and questions for further study. More research and work is needed to ensure that women’s choices for non-motherhood are understood, respected, and supported. Moreover, it will be necessary to understand and challenge the dominant pronatalist ideas that denigrate alternative choices.
PhD Thesis - School of Health Sciences
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