In the United States, childbearing remains part of the typical life course. However, evidence suggests that men and women, on average, are having fewer children and having them later in life. Additionally, public and academic outlets are increasingly acknowledging some adults' decisions to intentionally forego childbearing completely, with an emphasis on the reasons why individuals choose to abstain from childbearing. However, further research is needed to identify the ways in which voluntarily childless adults actively negotiate the social world among structural influences that simultaneously values parenthood and place complex burdens on parents. Utilizing the Bourdieuian concepts of habitus, capital, and field, the present study contributes to a shift in the conversation from "why" individuals remain childless toward an understanding of "how" childbearing preferences impact individuals' lives in practice. This research compares experiences and characteristics of non-parents in relation to childbearing preferences. In particular, this research suggests measures to identify deeply rooted childbearing habitus, the relationship between access to various forms of capital and the habitus, and explores how this identity relates to experiences in various social fields. The Bourdieuian perspective poses that individuals' access to capital simultaneously shapes and is shaped by the habitus. Similarly, habitus and capital both shape and are shaped by experiences in various social arenas. Thus the research presented here consists of an exploratory analysis finding support for the use of the concepts associated with this theoretical framework, in order to encourage future research to establish a more complete understanding of the decision (not) to become a parent. The current study includes a sample of 972 childless men and women between the ages of 25 and 40 years old. Purposive sampling techniques were used to oversample voluntarily childless adults (n=573) to be compared to adults that intend to have children in the future (n=399). Respondents completed an online questionnaire with open- and closed-ended questions addressing personality traits and motivations for childbearing preferences, as well as the structural and interactional impact of these preferences – including measures of social support, cultural norms, and economic resources. In utilizing Bourdieuian concepts of habitus and field as they relate to the complex interplay between individual agency and external structures, this study offers a more comprehensive grasp of the complex reasons for and experiences of a voluntarily childless lifestyle. This shift in emphasis also suggests contributions to a greater understanding of the perceived impact of structural forces, including the health care industry's gatekeeping of reproductive technologies and the work/family life balance in relation to voluntary childlessness as well as broader decisions or processes of becoming a parent, by identifying the similarities and differences between groups.
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Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)
Mullins, Alyssa, ""I Kid You Not, I am Asked a Question about Children At Least Once a Week": Exploring Differences in Childbearing Habitus in Pronatalist Fields" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 5107.