An exploration of contemporary American attitudes toward those who choose not to have children.
In her first book, Blackstone (Sociology/Univ. of Maine) surveys both her own work on the subject and that of others. She and her husband have chosen to be “childfree,” and their experiences, along with interviews conducted during a decadelong study of dozens of other people who have made the same choice, add a personal dimension to the more academic side of the book. With quiet humor and without stridency, the author explores the subtle and not-so-subtle pressures people, in particular married women, feel to have children and the conscious or unconscious assumption that life without children is incomplete and that a “family” must include children. She debunks many of the myths about childfree people, demonstrating, for example, that rather than being selfish, they are often more involved than parents in volunteering and other civic activities and that they often play key roles in the lives of children of others, whether as aunts and uncles or as teachers, social workers, and mentors. Blackstone also argues that the decision not to have children causes more social pressure on women than men, and she devotes a chapter to tearing down the widely held theory of “maternal instinct.” She reassures those inclined to make this choice that, contrary to popular wisdom, it is no more likely to lead to a lonely old age than a child-filled marriage is. While at times the narrative turns densely academic and Blackstone has a tendency to repeat key arguments or examples from chapter to chapter, she provides a thoroughly researched and illuminating survey of a subject that deserves further exploration.
The book will provide intellectual backing for those who have made—or are thinking of making—the choice Blackstone has made and make those who consider children essential to universal happiness reconsider their position.