A new study published this month in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research could confirm what many folks who eschew raising children have been suspecting: it turns out that people feel moral outrage toward couples who choose to remain child-free. The purposeful decision not to have children is a popular intention in progressive enclaves. With the possible exception of the ultra-wealthy, we just don't have the resources in the United States to support healthy child-rearing in the context of nuclear families.
We don't have federal paid family leave. We don't have access to comprehensive, regulated, subsidized childcare. And we don't have a workforce structured around making time for people to have children when its biologically convenient without disrupting their career paths or bankrupting them. Coupled with the toll overpopulation takes on the planet, it's easy for people who feel on the fence about having kids to hop over to the child-free side, along with the folks who never thought parenting was right for them in the first place.
Although there have always been judgements against child-free folks from the considerable majority of people who believe its our duty to procreate, this particular study uncovered a bias far more malicious.
"Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also as morally wrong."
Study author Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, found that participants actually felt a sense of "moral outrage" towards child-free couples. In other words, participants weren't just judging people who chose not to have children; they harbored a real animus toward them.
"What's remarkable about our findings is the moral outrage participants reported feeling toward a stranger who decided to not have children," Ashburn-Nardo told Science Daily. "Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also as morally wrong."
For the study, participants were presented with a vignette of a married adult, and, after reading it, they were asked to rate both their own perceptions of the married person's psychological fulfillment as well as their feelings toward the married person. The vignettes were identical, with the exception of the person's gender and their child status.
Participants rated both the men and women in vignettes where they remained intentionally child-free as significantly less psychologically fulfilled than those in vignettes who had a child. Participants also reported feelings of anger, disapproval and disgust toward men and women in the vignettes who opted to remain child-free. This may confirm the sense child-free folks have that others don't simply experience bias toward them, but actual vitriol.
Ashburn-Nardo hopes to expand her research into the ways this kind of moral outrage invades how child-free people are treated on a daily basis, and the ways in which it spirals into blatant discrimination. It's a disturbing conclusion, but a powerful one that could help us unpack the real struggle faced by people who choose to remain child-free.