Study: Moral Outrage Aimed at the Intentionally Childless

Study: Moral Outrage Aimed at the Intentionally Childless March 20, 2017

As someone who neither has nor wants children, it has always annoyed the hell out of me to see the common attitudes toward people like me from breeders. A new study shows that most Americans respond to those who choose not to have children with high levels of moral outrage.


Dr. Leslie Ashburn-Nardo doesn’t have kids. According to the married social psychologist, this makes for some awkward moments at dinner parties.

Ashburn-Nardo, a psychology professor at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, studies stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Most of her research looks at sexism and racism, but she recently branched out. The professor’s latest study, published in the journal Sex Roles in March 2017, explores American attitudes toward the decision to forego parenthood.

“I started drawing parallels between my research [on racism and sexism] and my personal experience as a childfree woman,” Ashburn-Nardo writes in an email.

“My husband and I would meet total strangers, like at dinner parties, who’d ask about our kids,” she recounts. “I understand that’s a natural thing to do … most people our age do have children. But what surprised me was the reaction when we would say, ‘We don’t have kids.'”

It wasn’t a look of surprise, she says, but “of disdain, like we’d done something wrong.”…

Subjects were told they were involved in a study about intuition and the ability to predict the future. Each subject read a paragraph describing one of four, ostensibly nonfictional, married people. Two of the characters had two children, and two had chosen not to have any. Subjects then filled out a questionnaire in which they predicted the character’s level of fulfillment in areas of marriage, family and life overall.

Amidst decoy questions, the survey also assessed the subject’s annoyance, outrage, anger, disapproval and disgust with the character, the latter three identified as components of moral outrage.

Across the board, characters who chose not to have children — both women and men — elicited higher scores in anger, disapproval and disgust, and lower scores in all areas of predicted life fulfillment.

The dark predictions signify punishment, says Ashburn-Nardo — a belief that people who choose not to have kids should be worse off than those who accept the “moral obligation of parenthood.”

And the same thing is true of those who aren’t married:

Voluntarily single people face similar reactions, says Bella DePaulo, social-psychology project scientist at University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of” Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.” DePaulo, who was not involved in the current study, thinks the stigmas are related.
“In American society (and others as well), people are expected to follow a certain path through adult life,” DePaulo writes in an email. “That includes getting married by a certain age, and then having children.

“What’s more, people are not just supposed to follow that path, they are supposed to want to follow it.”

Hey, here’s a crazy idea: How about people grow the hell up and realize that just because society has a blueprint for how my life is supposed to go doesn’t mean that I’m a failure or morally bankrupt if I choose not to follow? How about we recognize that we are individuals with different goals, preferences, priorities and values and that my life belongs to me, not to you or to society in general? I don’t judge those who have children for doing so. If that’s what they want out of life, I’m happy for them. But I do judge them for judging those of us who choose not to follow their example.

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