Not too long ago I came across a wiki entry on the “childfree movement.” The entry claims the “childfree movement is a grassroots social movement advocating childlessness by choice.”
It’s easy to critique this statement; I don’t know many childfree who “advocate childlessness,” by choice or not.
Perhaps the wiki entry’s author is thinking of the zero population growth (ZPG) movement, though even this movement doesn’t “advocate childlessness.” It simply advocates a replacement fertility rate (which, incidentally, means in the U.S. that we’d have to start having MORE kids since our total fertility rate has been below population replacement rates since 1971).
The childfree, for their part, advocate having a choice about whether to have kids. In neither case – ZPG or the childfree – is anyone advocating childlessness per se.
In any case, the wiki entry got me thinking. Are we a movement? Should we be a movement? What is a movement anyway and does it matter whether we’re one or not?
What’s in a Name?
In my life as a sociologist, I’ve thought a lot about social movements. One of my early research projects was a study of activism in the breast cancer movement. I’ve also studied the campus anti-rape movement.
Scholars who study social movements define them as a collection of individuals who are organized and working toward or resisting some change in society. The “change” can be policy-oriented, law-oriented, values-oriented, or identity-oriented.
Scholars also note three common features of social movements:
- They engage in collective, intentional actions rooted in a common purpose for or against change
- Members are “outsiders” in some way; they may lack institutionalized representation, use tactics that lay outside traditional channels, or otherwise find themselves somehow outside the mainstream
- Their efforts are sustained over time and not a one-time-only or spontaneous occurrence
In the case of the childfree, some of us advocate for change in that we wish for our choice to be culturally accepted. Some of us also advocate for legal, workplace, and other policies that provide us equal rights and opportunities.
But do we do so collectively, in a way that is organized? I’m not so sure. Yes, the National Organization for Non-Parents (NON) is one example of an organized, collective effort but that organization is now defunct, having been active from 1972-1982.
The revitalization of NON’s Non-Parents Day, renamed International Childfree Day, in 2013 is a sign that the childfree are again organizing. We’ve also seen exponential growth in the number of blogs, social media accounts, and networking groups focused on the childfree. In 2009, researchers at the University of Oxford identified 18 childfree-focused Facebook groups; today there are over 80 such groups and well over 100 Facebook pages.
Will these efforts result in some more deliberate, more organized collective activity? Perhaps. For now, I’d say that while we may be in the early stages of collective action as a group, to say that there’s a childfree movement is premature.
One can always hope, though, for a full blown movement to change our cultural notions of what it means to choose not to parent and to advocate for equal rights and representation for the childfree. When that happens, I’ll be there!