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Why is there a stigma against childless women?

A group of women tell Scripps News what they think of the stigma surrounding women who choose not to have children.
Why is there a stigma against childless women?
Posted at 7:10 PM, May 12, 2023

Comedian Chelsea Handler is no stranger to seeing her name splashed across headlines, but one of her latest skits is sparking debate.

She starts the sketch with, "This is a day in the life of a childless woman," and goes on to list a number of activities she's able to do without kids taking up her time.

While hosting "The Daily Show," Handler said, "Women who choose to be child-free face a stigma ... being unfulfilled, unhappy or even selfish."

Forgoing motherhood isn't a new concept, but the number of child-free women is rising, according to Pew Research. 

In 2021, 44% of adults who don't have kids said it's unlikely they ever will. That's up seven percentage points since 2018, but the stigma isn't going away.

It's a subject that often elicits opinions that are more anecdotal than evidence-based. But Scripps News found one 2016 study which asked people to read different versions about a married couple's decision to have kids and rate the couple's psychological fulfillment. 

Researchers found not only did participants feel that child-free couples were less fulfilled, they also felt "moral outrage," including feelings of disgust and anger.

Some of that stigma played out a couple years ago on Fox News, with then-candidate, Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio.

"We're effectively run in this country, via the Democrats, via our corporate oligarchs, by a bunch of childless cat ladies who are miserable at their own lives and the choices that they've made, and so they want to make the rest of the country miserable, too. And it's just a basic fact," he said.

On "The Daily Show," Handler also said, "The simple truth is that I'm not having a kid because I'm happier without them, and that's really not of anyone's concern but my own."

So, it's clear the choice to be child-free doesn't come without pushback, but why do women shoulder some level of this stigma if they don't have children? 

A group of child-free women and mothers told Scripps News what they think.

SEE MORE: Is having kids making climate change worse?

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