BARREN IN THE PROMISED LAND: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness by Elaine Tyler May

BARREN IN THE PROMISED LAND: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness

Email this review


A superb historical and qualitative analysis that explores the intersection of public and private definitions of fertility and childlessness. May (American Studies/Univ. of Minnesota; Homeward Bound, 1988, etc.) observes that in ""a nation obsessed with reproduction,"" Americans must reconcile the supposedly private experience of parenting with public social norms. It is an emotionally charged debate from all sides, and May believes that public discussions about infertility ""reflect not so much a concern about children, but a preoccupation with parents: who should raise the nations' future citizens."" Using a wide range of voices culled from 500 responses to her author's queries, May seeks to determine how the personal dimension of childlessness has changed over time. She argues that whereas American society once appreciated couples without children as long as they contributed to larger community enterprises, the childless now find themselves struggling for respect. She discovers two trends: toward the growing preoccupation with one's own reproductive capacity and the increased manipulation of reproduction. The result in our pronatalist society is that, despite the fact that having children is an economic drain rather than an economic asset, many go to extremes to bear children, enduring years of invasive hi-tech fertility treatments with no guarantee of success. But while the majority of May's respondents voiced similar goals (happiness, self-fulfillment, etc.), not all saw bearing children as the path to achieving them. According to May, as the public world gets more and more chaotic, individuals will continue to turn to their private lives for happiness and fulfillment, so the focus on children and who is fit to raise them is not likely to ease any time soon. May's fertile analysis of childlessness should be included as part of any inquiry into the construction and meaning of family life.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1995
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Basic