What Hurts Working Women Most, Going Childless or Having Kids?

When Holly Brockwell, editor of the UK women’s technology and lifestyle site Gadgette, wrote about her decision to get sterilized and not have children for the BBC, reaction started pouring in just a half hour after the article posted in late November. “The emails alone have got to be in the hundreds,” Brockwell told Fortune—and that was only three days after the piece went live. “Tweets, it has to be thousands. It’s been non-stop.”

Many were positive, but the negative ones more than made up for the kudos. “The nasty ones are, ‘You’re the worst person in the world, I hate you,’ and they stick with you,” Brockwell said. Some—like the man who found her phone number and insisted he could talk her into wanting kids—were downright creepy. It got so bad that she deactivated her Twitter account.

The Motherhood Paradox

We read a lot about how women with children struggle to balance the demands of their careers with caring for their families. And it’s undeniable that choosing to have kids can hurt women’s chances for advancement and lower their earning potential. Indeed, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, “having a child costs the average high skilled woman $230,000 in lost lifetime wages relative to similar women who never gave birth.”

Yet, as Brockwell so plainly demonstrates, our society remains suspicious of childless women—and especially those who make the conscious decision not to have kids. Those prejudices, too, can hurt women in the workplace.

Going Childless Can Mean Extra Work—Or Even Abuse…

When women opt not to have kids, employers often have less respect for their non-work responsibilities and may even expect them to pick up some of the slack for their parent co-workers, writes Laura Carroll, author of Families of Two: Interviews with Happily Married Couples Without Children by Choice.

In some cases, this can even tip over into abuse: A 2013 study of middle class workers showed that “[w]omen without children experience more [workplace] harassment and mistreatment than mothers, and mothers who spend less time on caregiving experience more harassment and mistreatment than mothers who spend more time on caregiving.” The harassment and mistreatment reported by survey participants included a wide range of activities, such as ignoring, withholding important information, trying to turn others in the office against a person, hostile treatment, and attempts to bribe or coerce.

“The amount of prejudice against women not having children I don’t think has moved very much” since the early 1990s when she wrote the book Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children, said psychotherapist Jeanne Safer. “There are stereotypes about the ball buster and the cold woman and the woman who’s like a man and the woman with a bad childhood. Sometimes women who don’t have children and are working at high level jobs are expected to take up the slack for women who have kids, which looks okay on the surface but it’s not. Maybe I have elderly parents or I like to live my life.”

The phenomenon of women remaining childless is something people are just starting to acknowledge and examine. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2014, 15% of women aged 40 to 44 did not have children. That was down from a high of 20% in 2006 but similar to the rate in 1994.

Read full article at What Hurts Working Women Most, Going Childless or Having Kids?


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