Presented at the 2010 meeting of the Eastern Sociological Society.
Based on interviews with 29 childfree adults (19 women, 10 men), in this paper I examine how the childfree simultaneously resist and reify gender norms. Specifically, I raise a macro-level concern that has not been explicitly considered in previous studies of the childfree: that the meaning, choice, and availability of the childfree status are shaped not just by empirical macro-level trends such as the feminist movement or enhanced reproductive choice but that beliefs about childfree status are also shaped by our culture’s dominant ideological position on gender, sexuality, and family. Starting from the theoretical propositions developed by Oswald, Blume, and Marks (2005), I suggest that cultural norms centered on heteronormative binaries of gender (male/female), sexuality (heterosexual/homosexual), and family (biological/chosen) prescribe not only that adults couple with and marry individuals of the other sex but that they must then go on to rear children together. Because such norms exist, the choice to remain childfree might be understood as a form of gender transgression. On the other hand, some childfree adults wind up reifying gender stereotypes as they work to resist external pressures to rear children. Thus, this paper examines the ways that childfree adults simultaneously challenge and reinforce gender norms and stereotypes.