American family formations have evolved over the years: from multiple generations under one roof; to a unit with father, mother and 2.5 children; to blended stepfamilies; to a single parent and child.
University of Maine sociologist Amy Blackstone says childfree couples are also part of the mix.
“When we talk about families, be it in politics, in the workplace, or in our popular culture, the childfree often get left out of the conversation,” Blackstone says.
“Yet the reality is that the childfree do form families just as those with children do. Recognizing that the childfree form families — and how they do so — is an important step toward destigmatizing the choice not to have kids.”
And more people are making that choice.
In 1976, 10 percent of women ages 40–44 in the United States had never had a child, says the UMaine associate professor and chair of the Sociology Department. By 2006, the rate had doubled to 20 percent.
Childfree couples fulfill nearly all the same functions as families with children, Blackstone says, and research on them is needed to reflect evolving realities of American family life.
In her January 2014 article in Sociology Compass titled “Doing Family without Having Kids,” Blackstone says childfree couples provide the same functions of emotional and sexual companionship, economic support, home life, and social reproduction as families with children do.
In studies, adult childfree couples cite a desire to nurture emotional closeness and a desire to maintain a satisfying sex life as reasons not to have children, Blackstone says. And, research shows that among married couples, childfree couples generally report higher levels of marital satisfaction than couples with children.
Pets also play an important role in childfree families, she says. Adults form strong emotional bonds with pets and often refer to them as family members.
Research indicates that both members of childfree couples generally contribute economically to the household. Childfree women are more likely to have careers outside the home than women with children, she says. In addition, earned incomes of childfree women are likely to be higher than earned incomes of women with children.
With regard to maintaining a home, Blackstone suggests research could be done on whether childfree couples more equitably divide household labor than couples with children.
And while childfree couples do not biologically reproduce, Blackstone says they regularly participate in social reproduction — helping youth become participating and contributing members of society — as relatives, teachers, counselors and role models.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777