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Voluntary childlessness: A critical review of the literature


Gilla Shapiro

About Gilla
Gilla Shapiro has interests in psychology, public health, and gender policy. Gilla holds a B.A. and M.A. (Cantab) in Social and Political Science from the University of Cambridge, as well as a dual-degree Masters in Public Policy from the Hertie School of Governance and Masters in Public Administration from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Gilla has conducted research for the Toronto Western Hospital, the Global Public Policy Institute, the Hospital for Sick Children, St. Michael's Hospital, and the Social Science Research Center Berlin. Currently, Gilla is completing her PhD in clinical psychology at McGill University.
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A voluntarily childless identity is a pertinent aspect in the discussion of family formations and non-reproduction. While childlessness describes a person or couple who does not have children, voluntary childlessness is characterized by a choice, commitment, and permanence regarding the decision not to parent. Voluntary childlessness is a burgeoning lifestyle choice that is also becoming increasingly vocal through a growing international social movement that has emerged to provide support and connect like-minded people. In 1973, Veevers' paper 'Voluntary childlessness: A neglected area of family study' described the voluntarily childless as receiving 'selective inattention'. Since, there has been considerable research examining voluntary childlessness. This paper reviews the literature on voluntary childlessness by examining four central debates: (1) who chooses to be childless; (2) why do individuals choose voluntary childlessness; (3) what are the consequences of voluntary childlessness; and, (4) stigmatization of voluntary childlessness and the response to stigma. In so doing, this paper reviews diverse literature and critically discusses the underlying assumptions of the field.
How to Cite: Shapiro, G., 2014. Voluntary childlessness: A critical review of the literature. Studies in the Maternal, 6(1), pp.1–15. DOI:
Published on 01 Jan 2014.
Peer Reviewed


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