Marcotte was citing new research done by Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, an associate professor of psychology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. (You can read the entire study here, and a press release about it here. Childfree by choice blogger & author Laura Carroll also posted about the same study, here, as did Karen at The NotMom, here.)
"Our data suggests that not having children is seen not only as atypical, or surprising, but also morally wrong, "Ashburn-Nardo said (emphasis mine). Not only are people expected to HAVE children, they are expected to WANT to have children -- and those who don't conform with these expectations are viewed not just with disapproval but with "moral outrage" (!).
The press release continues:
The findings are consistent with other studies of backlash against people who violate social roles and other stereotypic expectations. When people violate their expected roles, they suffer social sanctions. Given that more and more people in the U.S. are choosing to not have children, this work has far-reaching implications.(Ummm, yes, I'd say so...!)
In the study, Ashburn-Nardo notes the perception that children are a necessary ingredient for a fulfilling life -- despite the existence of several studies showing that parents are significantly less satisfied with their marriages than non-parents.
Apparently those of us who are childless/free not by choice get a pass and are viewed somewhat more favourably than those who dare to buck social norms by deliberately rejecting parenthood altogether. (Yay?) (Interestingly, there appears to be no significant difference in the level of scorn heaped upon childfree men versus childfree women.)
But even if people recognize that it is or may not be our "fault" that we don't have kids, I would venture to say there's still an element of judgment (and perhaps even superiority) involved when they compare our life to that of parents (including, presumably, themselves). They "feel sorry" for us because they perceive our lives to be lacking/lesser-than in some important ways.
I don't think Ashburn-Nardo's conclusions are news to those of us without children (for any reason). But her study does provide some concrete evidence to back up our perceptions of stigma.
There were some interesting and thoughtful points made in the Facebook comments on Marcotte's page (so far, anyway...!) (versus the Salon FB page (don't even go there), or the comments made on the article itself). Some remarked that perhaps it's not surprising that 18-year-olds would be so idealistic about having kids in the future "before having to really think about what sacrifices that might entail."
One commenter noted the "dearth of articles from people past childbearing age about their childfree lives. A lot of stuff I see is from people in the 20's and 30's who may just be delaying childbearing (not saying all, very aware there are people who know from a young age they don't want have kids.) Just think more narratives from those on the other side of it (past childbearing age) would be meaningful." One more reason for those of us in the childless/free world to keep writing and speaking out about our experiences (particularly as we age)!
Ashburn-Nardo plans to continue her research about the growing childfree demographic. I look forward to hearing more!