Declining Marriage Rates and Gender Inequity in Social Institutions: Towards an Adequately Complex Explanation for Childlessness

A recent newspaper report pitted McDonald’s and Birrell’s explanations for Australia’s below-replacement fertility against each other. In this article, Cannold presents data from qualitative research into the experience and understandings of 35 childless women aged 28 to 42.

Childless women were best understood as those who were Childless by Choice and those who were Childless by Circumstance. On the basis of their baseline orientation to motherhood – namely, the place, durability and stability of motherhood in their imagined futures and identities – the latter group was categorised as either ‘Thwarted Mothers’ or ‘Waiters and Watchers’. While the applicability of the findings are limited because of the small, self-selected sample, the data shed some light on the relative contributions of gender inequity and declining partnering rates to childlessness, and thus on the dispute between McDonald and Birrell.

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