More city women are taking a pass on the mommy path
- Last Updated: 12:34 PM, August 2, 2011
- Posted: 11:17 PM, August 1, 2011
But there’s a larger social contract to consider, say those who claim child-free women are making a mistake.
“The task of mothering is a very important function. It’s more than just an issue of personal preference,” says Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies for the Colorado-based organization Focus on the Family.
“We all have a social responsibility to reproduce ourselves and make sure that we’re giving the future of our world good promise . . . There are real consequences to these things. The next generation of teachers, inventors, leaders — those people all started out as babies. The act of mothering is a very important social function.”
This argument doesn’t get much traction with childless women.
“It’s not as if the world needs any more kids!” says Lisa. “The best thing we could all do for the planet is stop breeding.”
But, many childless women are asked, “won’t you regret not having children?”
“I’m starting to think about it more now,” admits Taran, the cable network exec, “and I’m thinking that I might regret it if I don’t. But it’s not the be-all and end-all of my thoughts.”
Studies haven’t borne out this particular scare tactic, however.
A 2003 study by Dr. Phil surveyed 20,000 parents; a third said if they had to do it all over again, they wouldn’t have had kids. The same year, at the University of Florida, a survey of 3,800 people between the ages of 50 and 84 debunked the myth of elderly regret, finding “no significant differences in depression between parents and childless adults.”
In the shorter term, studies are finding people without children actually chart higher on the happiness scale than parents. In a 2-year-old study by the University of Denver, 90 percent of couples saw their marital happiness decrease after their first child was born.
A 2008 Newsweek report found parents to be about 7 percent less happy than the childless, and a related study said “no group of parents reported significantly greater emotional well-being than people who never had children.”
But despite the burgeoning numbers of women choosing not to have kids, despite the academic evidence showing you don’t need them to be happy, despite dwindling worldwide resources — society is banging the drum for motherhood harder than ever.
“What we have now is a situation where women have made enormous strides in defining themselves as individuals . . . and in leading interesting lives,” says Leslie Bennetts, author of “The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much?”
“And yet,” she says, “the culture batters them all the time with this message that, really, the only thing that is worth paying attention to is having some big, ridiculous destination wedding and then starting to breed.”
“I call it mom-opia,” says Melanie Notkin, author of the book “Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids.” Notkin’s book touts many facts and figures related to the surge of childless American women — such as the 2008 US Census report statistic that 45.7 percent of women under the age of 44 do not have children. She believes this vast, almost-half population of women is still largely invisible.
“I think people often invert the ‘w’ in women to ‘m’ for mother,” she says. “There’s this assumption that all women are mothers. Everybody seems so shocked by the statistics. I have been questioned so often, I have to actually show people the census data!”
But while childless women may be “invisible,” childless celebrities are increasingly out and proud. Cameron Diaz has remarked that “having children changes your life drastically, and I really love my life.” When asked in a “60 Minutes” interview if she ever regretted not having children, Helen Mirren replied, “No. Absolutely not. I am so happy that I didn’t have children. Because I’ve had freedom.”
And for a significant number of New York’s female residents, that allure of freedom seems to be winning out over motherhood.
“New York attracts the best and the brightest,” says Bennetts. “I don’t find it surprising that you have such a high concentration of women here who have decided that another path is, maybe, more rewarding.”