gender

Originally posted at Scatterplot.

Olympic fever has hit! As we all marvel at the power, precision, and grace of the athletes, a more disturbing commentary has also emerged, one that diminishes women athletes’ accomplishments, defines them by the men around them, places them in tired tropes of sex objects, or infantilizes them as “girls.” Some journalists, in combination with a robust social media discussion, are calling this bad behavior out. But should we be so surprised?

According to past research, no. In our work, we see this as a more pervasive issue, and women’s collegiate coaching is a prime example. When Title IX was enacted in 1972 approximately 90% of women’s teams were coached by women; in 2014 that number dropped to 43%. Women comprise only 23% of head coaching positions. Why are women coaches – especially of women’s teams – being left out? We talked to 9 female and 12 male coaches of women’s and men’s teams and many of their own explanations suggest a view of fundamental and “natural” differences between men and women.

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Talking to Coaches… Gender Matters

In general, the qualities of sport – competition, confidence, physical strength, aggression – are seen as masculine, while characteristics of cooperation, passivity, and dependency are coded feminine, raising suspicions about women’s capacity to excel. Masculine dominance has helped to define the parameters of what it means to be a coach.

Interestingly, coaching may be seen as an example of conflicting masculine roles. Given the low pay and high time commitment, coaching undermines the traditional male family role as breadwinner. As this male head women’s tennis coach explains,

I’ve been kind of lucky… I didn’t feel like I had to make a certain amount of money, X amount of dollars to be happy. So I was ok with where I was at salary wise… I think that the key to that is having a wife that also works, and that we can still make it happen, and sort of live the way we want to live and be happy.

Many of the men echoed the idea that without a spouse’s support, a coaching career would be difficult. Although respondents all felt women opt out of coaching due to family pressures, none felt that men needed to opt out to support their families. Arguably, the relationship between masculinity and athletics provides men with the social compensation necessary to remain in coaching in a way that does not operate for women.

Especially when asked why women don’t coach men, many of the respondents did not think women would have the strength, athleticism, authority, and leadership abilities to be effective men’s coaches. As a male head men’s soccer coach expresses:

I think the game is slightly different. The understanding of the nuances of the men’s game versus the women’s game… for a female to go into a men’s athletic team and command respect from those guys, it’s difficult. A female wouldn’t be able to step in and play seven versus seven and be able to play at the same level. Not technically, not tactically, I mean simply physically…just the strength factor.

Other arguments highlight the assumed biological connection between men and leadership. A female assistant women’s soccer coach argued that “the leadership gene is much more apparent in guys, it’s much more inherent in them.” Additionally challenging is the perception that taking orders and guidance from a female threatens masculinity and calls into question male superiority in a male dominated field. A former male head golf coach notes,

A woman coach is going to have to work harder to gain respect from a guy player than a male coach will have to work from a female player. … [Individuals are] raised to say if a guy’s leading, you give them a little benefit of the doubt. A woman has to prove herself, and until she does there’s going to be doubt.

By internalizing and enforcing stereotypes a gender pecking-order can be preserved. As this woman, an assistant women’s soccer coach, suggests, socialization improves men’s leadership ability:

When girls are socialized… it’s share, everyone in groups, be nice to everyone; guys are taught much more of competitiveness… a guy leader comes out in a group much easier… because in a girl’s environment it’s no one should be above anyone else… guys and girls are just different. They’re socialized different.

Stereotypes about men’s competitiveness and women’s need for emotional bonding were prevalent, and if these are carried into hiring decisions it is easy to see why male coaches are favored. Yet, if gender differences are so stark, we would expect to see same-sex coaching across the board, instead of the current disparity. Instead, this difference only legitimated women’s absence and was not used to question men’s presence as coaches of women’s teams. None of the women said they wanted to coach men’s teams and nor were they upset at being denied access to these positions. Respondents were more in favor of increasing women coaching women, but did not question or challenge any of the main gender stereotypes. This man, a former head men’s golf coach said,

I’m a fan of a woman coaching women’s sports, if skill levels are equal, because there are certain intangibles – I don’t understand the woman animal as well on certain things.

Shattering the “Glass Wall”?

Coaches we interviewed recognized the role that resources and opportunities played in incentivizing men into coaching women, but none challenged any aspect of the system. Respondents automatically buy into the “glass wall” such that 50 percent of jobs (those coaching men) are off-limits, thus if women coach approximately 50 percent of women’s teams, it’s “fair.” We see that unquestioned assumptions of gender difference supported perceptions that masculinity and men were superior to femininity and women. Twenty years ago scholars on this topic said it is beliefs in male athletic superiority that justify gender disparities in coaching, and according to these interviews little has changed. So, yes, observers should continue to call out the failures of Olympic commentators to treat women athletes equally, but as we say goodbye to Rio, let’s not forget how these issues are shaping coaches’ and athletes’ experiences every day.

Catherine Bolzendahl is a professor of sociology and the co-author of Counted Out: Same Sex Relations and Americans’ Definitions of Family. Vanessa Kauffman is a PhD student.  Both are at the University of California, Irvine. Jessica Broadfoot-(Lee) is an alum and was a member of the women’s tennis team and a two-time Big West Scholar-Athlete..

Flashback Friday.

I heard stories this week about dung beetles and cuttlefish.  Both made me think about the typical stories we hear in the media about evolved human mating strategies.  First, the stories:

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Story #1 :The Dung Beetle

Photo from flickr by Camilo Hdo.
Photo by Camilo Hdo, retrieved from flickr.

A story on Quirks and Quarks discussed the mating strategies of the dung beetle.  The picture above is of a male beetle; only the males have those giant horns.  He uses it to defend the entrance to a tiny burrow in which he keeps a female.  He’ll violently fight off other dung beetles who try to get access to the burrow.

So far this sounds like the typical story of competitive mating that we hear all the time about all kinds of animals, right?

There’s a twist: while only male dung beetles have horns, not all males have horns.  Some are completely hornless.  But if horns help you win the fight, how is hornlessness being passed down genetically?

Well, it turns out that when a big ol’ horned male is fighting with some other big ol’ horned male, little hornless males sneak into burrows and mate with the females.  They get discovered and booted out, of course, and the horned male will re-mate with the female with the hopes of displacing his sperm.

But.

Those little hornless males have giant testicles, way gianter than the horned males.  While the horned males are putting all of their energy into growing horns, the hornless males are making sperm.  So, even though they have limited access to females, they get as much mileage out of their access as they can.

The result: two distinct types of male dung beetles with two distinct mating strategies.

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Story #2: The Giant Australian Cuttlefish

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Photo by Paul Oughton, retrieved from Flickr.

The Naked Scientists podcast featured a story about Giant Australian Cuttlefish.  During mating season the male cuttlefish, much larger than the females, collect “harems” and spend their time mating and defending access.  Other males try to “muscle in,” but the bigger cuttlefish “throws his weight around” to scare him off. The biggest cuttlefish wins.

So far this sounds like the typical story of competitive mating that we hear all the time about all kinds of animals, right?

Well, according The Naked Scientists story, researchers have discovered an alternative mating strategy.  Small males, who are far too small to compete with large males, will pretend to be female, sneak into the defended territory, mate, and leave.

How do they do this?  They change their color pattern and rearrange their tentacles in a more typical female arrangement (they didn’t specify what this was) and, well, pass.  The large male thinks he’s another female. In the video below, the cuttlefish uses his ability to change the pattern on his body. He simultaneously displays a male pattern to the female and a female pattern to the large male on the other side.

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So, can the crossdressing cuttlefish and dodge-y dung beetle tell us anything about evolved human mating strategies?

Probably not.

But I do think it tells us something about how we should think about evolution and the reproduction of genes. If you listen to the media cover evolutionary psychological explanations of human mating, you only hear one story about the strategies that males use to try to get sex. That story sounds a lot like the one told about the horned beetle and the large male cuttlefish.

But these species have demonstrated that there need not be only one mating strategy. In these cases, there are at least two. So, why in Darwin’s name would we assume that human beings, in all of their beautiful and incredible complexity, would only have one? Perhaps we see a diversity in types of human males (different body shapes and sizes, different intellectual gifts, etc) because there are many different ways to attract females. Maybe females see something valuable in many different kinds of males! Maybe not all females are the same!

Let’s set aside the stereotypes about men and women that media reporting on evolutionary psychology tends to reproduce and, instead, consider the possibility that human mating is at least as complex as that of dung beetles and cuttlefish.

Originally posted in 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Signaling white supremacy.

On the heels of the Republican national convention, the notorious KKK leader David Duke announced his campaign for the Louisiana Senate. On his social media pages, he released a campaign poster featuring a young white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes wearing a gray tank top decorated with American flag imagery. She is beautiful and young, exuding innocence. Atop the image the text reads “fight for Western civilization” and included David Duke’s website and logo. It does not appear that she consented to being on the poster.

When I came upon the image, I was immediately reminded of pro-Nazi propaganda that I had seen in a museum in Germany, especially those depicting “Hitler youth.” Many of those posters featured fresh white faces, looking healthy and clean, in stark contrast to the distorted, darkened, bloated, and snarling faces of the targets of the Nazi regime.

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It’s different era, but the implied message of Duke’s poster is the same — the nationalist message alongside the idealized figure — so it wasn’t difficult to find a Nazi propaganda poster that drew the comparison. I tweeted it out like this:

Given that David Duke is an avowed racist running on a platform to save “Western” civilization, it didn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

Provoking racist backlash.

I hashtagged it with #davidduke and #americafirst, so I can’t say I didn’t invite it, but the backlash was greater than any I have ever received. The day after the tweet, I easily got one tweet per minute, on average.

What I found fascinating was the range of responses. I was told I looked just like her — beautiful, blue-eyed, and white — was asked if I hated myself, accused of being a race traitor, and invited to join the movement against “white genocide.” I was also told that I was just jealous: comparatively hideous thanks to my age and weight. Trolls took shots at sociology, intellectuals, and my own intelligence. I was asked if I was Jewish, accused of being so, and told to put my head in an oven. I was sent false statistics about black crime. I was also, oddly, accused of being a Nazi myself. Others, like Kate Harding, Philip Cohen, and even Leslie Jones, were roped in.

Here is a sampling (super trigger warning for all kinds of hatefulness):

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It’s not news that twitter is full of trolls. It’s not news that there are proud white supremacists and neo-nazis in America. It’s not news that women online get told they’re ugly or fat on the reg. It’s not news that I’m a (proud) cat lady either, for what it’s worth. But I think transparency is our best bet to get people to acknowledge the ongoing racism, antisemitism, sexism, and anti-intellectualism in our society. So, there you have it.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Ever since Hillary Clinton became the Democratic nominee for president, commentators have been speculating as to how much being a woman will hurt her chances for election. The data suggest it won’t. In fact, if anything, what we know about American voting patterns suggests that being a woman is a slight advantage over being a man.

It’s not that there’s no sexism at all. Parents are more likely to encourage their sons to aspire to political office than their daughters. Women are more likely to be overburdened by childcare and housework when they’re married to men. Women are less likely than men to be tapped by powerful political party gatekeepers. And the media continues to produce biased news coverage.

But when women actually get on the ballot they are as likely to win an election as men. In fact, men in the United States seem rather indifferent towards a candidate’s sex, whereas women tend to prefer females.

Gender stereotypes still apply: voters tend to think that men are better at handling masculine areas of governance like foreign affairs and the economy, but they tend to think that women are better at feminized areas like health care and education. This means that being female can help or hurt a candidate, depending on which issues dominate the election. But, when looked at as an aggregate, gender stereotypes don’t hurt women more than men.

So, there’s one thing we can be reasonably sure of this November: If Clinton loses and Trump wins, it is unlikely to be because the American electorate is too sexist to elect a woman.

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Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

7On Tuesday the first female presidential candidate was officially nominated by a major party. Newspaper headlines across the country referenced the historic event with headlines like “Historic First!” and “Clinton Makes History!” but a surprising number featured photographs of Bill instead of Hillary Clinton. I coded the pictures of each of the 266 newspapers that ran the story on the front page on July 27th (cataloged at Newseum). Here’s the breakdown:

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Somehow more than three-quarters of newspapers used photos of someone other than the nominee. Nearly the same number of newspapers showed pictures of the crowd at the DNC as the number that showed Hillary Clinton. A non-trivial number of newspapers only showed pictures of Senator Bernie Sanders and a few featured pictures of Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine.

So, why? Why did nearly half of the U.S. newspaper front pages Wednesday morning show only pictures of Bill Clinton?

Let’s consider some explanations.

(1) Journalistic norms. Journalism is governed by a set of norms. One requires that any photo that illustrates an event should be taken from the event itself. Some have suggested that since Hillary Clinton wasn’t physically in attendance at the convention Tuesday evening, reporters couldn’t use a photograph of her. That fact that 21% of newspapers did use an image of Hillary Clinton, though, suggests that this can’t fully explain the numbers. Of the 55 images of Hillary Clinton, 21 used photographs of her video appearance at the convention; the rest used file photos. She may not have physically been there, but front pages like that of The Boston Globe and Newsday (below) show that journalistic norms can’t explain her overwhelming absence.
9(2) Hostile sexism. Sexism that’s hostile is aggressively and proactively anti-woman. Is it possible that some journalists are so uncomfortable with or opposed to a female presidential nominee that they just couldn’t stomach putting Hillary Clinton’s face on the front page? Maybe. There might be a few overtly sexist journalists who just refused to put Hillary on the cover, but that probably doesn’t explain such a high percentage of newspapers with no picture of the nominee.

(3) Supportive sexism. Perhaps journalists (unconsciously) felt that an important thing about her nomination was that she was endorsed by men. Political authority – the authority to speak in the public about political issues — is a masculine authority usually held by men. As a male politician and former president, Bill Clinton’s image lends authority to Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination. His words about her (his “nod”) have weight, giving legitimacy to her candidacy for an office that has always been held by a man. Headlines read “He’s With Her!” and another said “Bill makes his case!” She earned “Bills praise” and got a “boost.”  Maybe some journalists intuited that that was the real story.

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(4) Bill Clinton’s own gender barrier. Former President Bill Clinton also gave a historic speech Tuesday evening as the first male spouse of the first female presidential candidate. As Rebecca Traister wrote for New York Magazine, “for the first time, the spouse wasn’t a wife. It was a husband, who was … [performing] submission.” Perhaps men’s gender bending is more inherently interesting since masculinity is more limiting for men than femininity is for women. Or maybe this is a more subtle form of sexism: finding things men do inherently more interesting just because men are doing them.

(5) A (gendered) failure of imagination. Maybe Bill Clinton appeared on so many covers because there was no one in the newsroom to notice that putting him on the front page was weird. Or no one with the authority and gall to speak up and say, “Uh, shouldn’t we use a picture of Hillary instead of Bill?” This may reflect the gender gap in journalism. Three out of five print journalists are male. It’s probably even more skewed at the top. With so many male journalists working on front pages across the country, it is plausible that they just didn’t think about gender or those that did were afraid to speak up.

All these explanations together, and likely ones I haven’t thought of, help explain why Hillary Clinton’s face was so absent from the story about her historic moment. The consequences are significant. Politics is still largely a man’s world, and conceptualized in terms of masculinity. U.S. politicians are overwhelmingly male. Only 6 state governors are female, and only 19.3% of U.S. representative seats are filled by women. Only 20 women serve in the U.S. senate. Showing images of a male politician, Bill Clinton, when a female politician has earned an historic victory, only continues this gendered order of politics.

Wendy M. Christensen is a professor of sociology at William Paterson University. Her research interests center on gender, the media, political mobilization, and the U.S. Armed Forces. You can follow her on twitter at @wendyphd.

A Pew study found that 63% of white and 20% of black people think that Michael Brown’s death at the hands of Darren Wilson was not about race. This week many people will probably say the same about two more black men killed by police, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

Those people are wrong.

African Americans are, in fact, far more likely to be killed by police. Among young men, blacks are 21 times more likely to die at the hands of police than their white counterparts.

But, are they more likely to precipitate police violence?  No. The opposite is true. Police are more likely to kill black people regardless of what they are doing. In fact, “the less clear it is that force was necessary, the more likely the victim is to be black.”

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That’s data from the FBI.

This question was also studied by sociologist Lance Hannon. With an analysis of over 950 non-justifiable homicides from police files, he tested whether black people were more likely to take actions that triggered their own murder. The answer was no. He found no evidence that blacks were more likely than whites to engage in verbal or physical antecedents that explained their death.

There is lots, lots more evidence if one bothers to go looking for it.

Castile and Sterling, unlike Brown, were carrying weapons. People will try to use that fact to justify the police officer’s fatal aggression. But it doesn’t matter. Black men and women are killed disproportionately whether they are carrying weapons or not, whether carrying weapons is legal or not. Carrying weapons is, in fact, legal in both Minnesota and Louisiana, the states of this week’s killings. What they were carrying is no more illegal than Trayvon’s pack of Skittles. Black people can’t carry guns safely; it doesn’t matter whether they are legal. Heck, they can’t carry Skittles safely. Because laws that allow open and concealed carry don’t apply the same way to them as they do white people. No laws apply the same way to them. The laws might be race neutral; America is not.

Revised from 2014.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The barbershop holds a special place in American culture. With its red, white, and blue striped poles, dark Naugahyde chairs, and straight razor shaves, the barbershop has been a place where men congregate to shore up their stubble and get a handle on their hair. From a sociological perspective, the barbershop is an interesting place because of its historically homosocial character, where men spend time with other men. In the absence of women, men create close relationships with each other. Some might come daily to talk with their barbers, discuss the news, or play chess. Men create community in these places, and community is important to people’s health and well-being.

But is the barbershop disappearing? If so, is anything taking its place?

In my study of high-service men’s salons — dedicated to the primping and preening of an all male clientele — hair stylists described the “old school” barbershop as a vanishing place. They explained that men are seeking out a pampered grooming experience that the bare bones barbershop with its corner dusty tube television doesn’t offer. The licensed barbers I interviewed saw these newer men’s salons as a “resurgence” of “a men-only place” that provides more “care” to clients than the “dirty little barbershop.” And those barbershops that are sticking around, said Roxy, one barber, are “trying to be a little more upscale.” She encourages barbers to “repaint and add flat-screen TVs.”

When I asked clients of one men’s salon, The Executive, if they ever had their hair cut at a barbershop, they explained that they did not fit the demographic. Barbershops, they said, are for old men with little hair to worry about or young boys who don’t have anyone to impress. As professional white-collar men, they see themselves as having outgrown the barbershop. A salon, with its focus on detailed haircuts and various services, including manicures, pedicures, hair coloring, and body waxing, help these mostly white men to obtain what they consider to be a “professional” appearance. “Professional men… they know that if they look successful, that will create connotations to their clients or customers or others that they work with — that they are smart, that they know what they’re doing,” said Gill, a client of the salon and vice-president in software, who reasoned why men go to the salon.

Indeed the numbers support the claim that barbershops are dwindling, and it may indeed be due to white well-to-do men’s shifting attitudes about what a barbershop is, what it can offer, and who goes there. (In my earlier research on a small women’s salon, one male client told me the barbershop is a place for the mechanic, or “grease-monkey,” who doesn’t care how he looks, and for “machismo” men who prefer a pile of Playboy magazines rather than the finery of a salon). According to Census data, there is a fairly steady decline in the number of barbershops over twenty years. From 1992-2012, we saw a 23% decrease in barbershops in the United Stated, with a slight uptick in 2013.

U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses, www.census.gov.
U.S. Census Bureau, Statistics of U.S. Businesses, www.census.gov.

But these attitudes about the barbershop as a place of ol’, as a fading institution that provides outdated fades, is both a classed and raced attitude. With all the nostalgia for the barbershop in American culture, there is surprisingly little academic writing about it. It is telling, though, that research considering the importance of the barbershop in men’s lives focuses on black barbershops. The corner barbershop is alive and well in black communities and it serves an important role in the lives of black men. In her book, Barbershops, Bibles, and BET, political scientist and TV host, Melissa Harris-Perry, wrote about everyday barbershop talk as important for understanding collective efforts to frame black political thought. Scholars also find the black barbershop remains an important site for building communities and economies in black neighborhoods and for socializing young black boys.

And so asking if the barbershop is vanishing is the wrong question. Rather, we should be asking: Where and for whom is the barbershop vanishing? And where barbershops continue as staples of a community, what purpose do they serve? Where they are disappearing, what is replacing them, and what are the social relations underpinning the emergence of these new places?

In some white hipster neighborhoods, the barbershop is actually making a comeback. In his article, What the Barbershop Renaissance Says about Men, journalist and popular masculinities commentator, Thomas Page McBee, writes that these places provide sensory pleasures whereby men can channel a masculinity that existed unfettered in the “good old days.” The smell of talcum powder and the presence of shaving mugs help men to grapple with what it means to be a man at a time when masculinity is up for debate. But in a barbershop that charges $45 for a haircut, some men are left out. And so, in a place that engages tensions between ideas of nostalgic masculinity and a new sort of progressive man, we may very well see opportunities for real change fall by the wayside. The hipster phenomenon, after all, is a largely white one that appropriates symbols of white working-class masculinity: think white tank tops with tattoos or the plaid shirts of lumbersexuals.

When we return to neighborhoods where barbershops are indeed disappearing, and being replaced with high-service men’s salons like those in my book, Styling Masculinityit is important to put these shifts into context. They are not signs of a disintegrating by-gone culture of manhood. Rather, they are part of a transformation of white, well-to-do masculinity that reflects an enduring investment in distinguishing men along the lines of race and class according to where they have their hair cut. And these men are still creating intimate relationships; but instead of immersing themselves in communities of men, they are often building confidential relationships with women hair stylists.

Kristen Barber, PhD is a sociologist at Southern Illinois University and the author of Styling Masculinity: Gender, Class, and Inequality in the Men’s Grooming Industry. She blogs at Feminist Reflections, where this post originally appeared.

*Thank you to Trisha Crashaw, graduate student at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, for her work on the included graph.

Media have tended to depict childfree people negatively, likening the decision not to have children to “whether to have pizza or Indian for dinner.” Misperceptions about those who do not have children have serious weight, given that between 2006 and 2010 15% of women and 24% of men had not had children by age 40, and that nearly half of women aged 40-44 in 2002 were what Amy Blackstone and Mahala Dyer Stewart refer to as “childfree,” or purposefully not intending to have children.

Trends in childlessness/childfreeness from the Pew Research Center:

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Blackstone and Stewart’s forthcoming 2016 article in The Family Journal, “There’s More Thinking to Decide”: How the Childfree Decide Not to Parent, engages the topic and extends the scholarly and public work Blackstone has done, including her shared blog, We’re Not Having a Baby.

When researchers explore why people do not have children, they find that the reasons are strikingly similar to reasons why people do have children. For example, “motivation to develop or maintain meaningful relationships” is a reason that some people have children – and a reason that others do not. Scholars are less certain on how people come to the decision to to be childfree. In their new article, Blackstone and Stewart find that, as is often the case with media portrayals of contemporary families, descriptions of how people come to the decision to be childfree have been oversimplified. People who are childfree put a significant amount of thought into the formation of their families, as they report.

Blackstone and Stewart conducted semi-structured interviews with 21 women and 10 men, with an average age of 34, who are intentionally childfree. After several coding sessions, Blackstone and Stewart identified 18 distinct themes that described some aspect of decision-making with regard to living childfree. Ultimately, the authors concluded that being childfree was a conscious decision that arose through a process. These patterns were reported by both men and women respondents, but in slightly different ways.

Childfree as a conscious decision

All but two of the participants emphasized that their decision to be childfree was made consciously. One respondent captured the overarching message:

People who have decided not to have kids arguably have been more thoughtful than those who decided to have kids. It’s deliberate, it’s respectful, ethical, and it’s a real honest, good, fair, and, for many people, right decision.

There were gender differences in the motives for these decisions. Women were more likely to make the decision based on concern for others: some thought that the world was a tough place for children today, and some did not want to contribute to overpopulation and environmental degradation. In contrast, men more often made the decision to live childfree “after giving careful and deliberate thought to the potential consequences of parenting for their own, everyday lives, habits, and activities and what they would be giving up were they to become parents.”

Childfree as a process

Contrary to misconceptions that the decision to be childfree is a “snap” decision, Blackstone and Stewart note that respondents conceptualized their childfree lifestyle as “a working decision” that developed over time. Many respondents had desired to live childfree since they were young; others began the process of deciding to be childfree when they witnessed their siblings and peers raising children. Despite some concrete milestones in the process of deciding to be childfree, respondents emphasized that it was not one experience alone that sustained the decision. One respondent said, “I did sort of take my temperature every five, six, years to make sure I didn’t want them.” Though both women and men described their childfree lifestyle as a “working decision,” women were more likely to include their partners in that decision-making process by talking about the decision, while men were more likely to make the decision independently.

Blackstone and Stewart conclude by asking, “What might childfree families teach us about alternative approaches to ‘doing’ marriage and family?” The present research suggests that childfree people challenge what is often an unquestioned life sequence by consistently considering the impact that children would have on their own lives as well as the lives of their family, friends, and communities. One respondent reflected positively on childfree people’s thought process: ‘‘I wish more people thought about thinking about it… I mean I wish it were normal to decide whether or not you were going to have children.’’

Braxton Jones is a graduate student in sociology at the University of New Hampshire, and serves as a Graduate Research and Public Affairs Scholar for the Council on Contemporary Families, where this post originally appeared.