When Ellen Metter was a young girl, she didn't go for the baby-doll thing. She dressed her Barbie up as Mary Tyler Moore — a single, urban professional with her own imaginary apartment and fun date nights.
"She was hip," says Metter, author of the recent humor book Cheerfully Childless. Now Metter, 42, wonders if her young lack of interest in nurturing dolls foreshadowed her adult lack of desire to have children.
Like many women who decide against children, Metter says she questioned her leanings on occasion — either through her own self-exploration or others' prodding questions. When she met her boyfriend a few years ago, she thought she wanted to have kids with him because it seemed like the ultimate expression of their love. But the couple eventually decided against it.
"My boyfriend has great genes, he's handsome, we'd make an adorable child," Metter says. "But then again, Hitler had parents."
Humor has helped Metter communicate with others about a topic she says is misunderstood by a family-oriented culture. "It's not right for me," Metter says. "And if you're like me and never had this visceral attraction to kids then it's probably not right for you either."
Indeed, more people are deciding kids are not for them as the ranks of the childless continue to swell.
Although a government report released this week showed American women having more children than at any time in the last 30 years — in many cases, a good economy made it easier for women to have additional children — more women are also postponing childbearing or foregoing it all together.
Of women ages 40 to 44 years old, near the end of their childbearing years, 19 percent are childless, the U.S. Census Bureau reports — a number almost twice as high as 20 years earlier.
While those statistics include women who would like to have kids or are infertile, more women say they're childless by choice. Nearly 7 million women of childbearing age defined themselves as voluntarily childless in 1995, the latest year available, up from 2.4 in 1982, according to the National Center of Health Statistics.
Shunned and Misunderstood
It's no coincidence that voluntary childlessness is on the rise as women are becoming more educated and eligible for a wide variety of opportunities outside of family life, says Madelyn Cain, author of the book The Childless Revolution.
Childless couples tend to be a more educated and affluent group than their counterparts with kids. With no child-related expenses to shell out, childless couples have more disposable income to spend — 60 percent more on entertainment, 79 percent more on food and 101 percent more on dining out than parents, according to American Demographics magazine.
Despite their growing numbers, many childless individuals and couples complain that they are ignored as a legitimate interest group and consumer class and even shunned by society for their lifestyles.
"We are with childlessness where we were with homosexuality 20 years ago," Cain says. "We always talk about family-friendly America. It is always part and parcel of a politician's package. But the package they're selling doesn't match the general public."
Those who are childless say they get all sorts of unwelcome, and unfair, observations from strangers, family, friends, and co-workers alike. They're told they are: Self-centered, deviant, workaholic, immature, and child-haters.