Printer Friendly

"Them and Us": The Experience of Social Exclusion among Women without Children in Their Post-Reproductive Years.

1. Introduction

Women's reproduction is both a private and public performance. Traditional gender roles and life scripts situate all women as mothers, whereby womanhood is synonymous with motherhood (Arendall, 2000; Dever, 2005; Gillespie, 2000; Graham & Rich, 2014; Graham & Rich, 2012; Hird & Abshoff, 2000; McQuillan et al., 2012). These traditional gender roles and life scripts are created and reinforced by dominant pronatalist ideologies. Pronatalism encourages procreation and expects that all women want to, can, and will be mothers (Dever, 2005; Gotlib, 2016; Heard, 2006; Heitlinger, 1991). In pronatalist societies such as Australia, motherhood is constructed as natural (Shapiro, 2014) and a requirement for feminine identity (Gillespie, 2000; Hird & Abshoff, 2000).

Pronatalist ideologies position childbearing as women's inevitable, desirable and appropriate life-outcome, and penalise and stigmatise non-motherhood. In Australia, pronatalist policies and political and media discourses and rhetoric (Ainsworth & Cutcher, 2008; Bown, Sumsion, & Press, 2011; Dever, 2005; Dever, & Curtin, 2007; Heard, 2006; Sawer, 2013) can affect the everyday experiences of women who do not conform to pronatalism, some of whom feel alienated and socially excluded (Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2016a). Social exclusion is a dynamic process driven by unequal power relationships, which can result in exclusion from, or poor quality, resources and participation across the domains of life (Taket et al., 2009) including economic, civic, service, and social. Because societally hegemonic ideologies and discourses (such as gender and pronatalism) can result in exclusion of individuals based on "deviant" personal characteristics (Taket et al., 2009: 16), women's reproductive choices and circumstances can be pathways to, and outcomes of, social exclusion. In particular, pervasive pronatalist ideologies render women without children as "other" (Letherby, 1999). Accordingly, such women can be involuntarily (Burchardt, Le Grand, & Piachaud, 1999) excluded. It is also possible some women without children voluntarily accept exclusion by others, or voluntarily exclude themselves. However, some have argued that choices to accept exclusion or self-exclude from a society which stigmatises and penalises "deviance," in essence constitute social exclusion (Taket et al., 2009).

Social exclusion is associated with poor physical and mental health, increased disability, morbidity and premature mortality (Berkman et al., 2000; Cacioppo & Hawkley, 2003; CSDH, 2008; Wilkinson & Marmot, 2003). Previous research has also demonstrated women without children can experience poorer health and wellbeing than women with children (Chou & Chi, 2004; Graham, 2015; Graham et al., 2011; Grundy & Oystein, 2010; Grundy & Tomassini, 2005; Koropeckyj-Cox, 1998; 2002; McMunn, Bartley, & Kuh, 2006; Tamakoshi et al., 2010; Weir, Day, & Ali, 2007; Wu & Hart, 2002), which may be a consequence of being "othered" in society. People (such as women without children) who do not meet socio-cultural norms and are therefore, perceived as deviant, are the most at risk of being stigmatised, marginalised and socially excluded (Major & O'Brien, 2005).

Regardless of Australia's prevailing pronatalist ideologies and the corresponding risk of social exclusion, the number of women without children has grown in recent decades. Australian census data from 2016 indicates 30% of all women aged 15 years and over do not have children (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). Thirty-five per cent of women aged 25 to 44, the peak childbearing years, do not have children, increasing from 31% in 2011 and 28% in 2006. Of women aged 45 to 65 years, 13% do not have any children, increasing from 11.8% in 2011 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012; 2017). Furthermore, couples without children are predicted to outnumber couples with children as early as 2023 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). It has been argued this increase in the percentage of women without children is a result of: a rise in involuntary (Seccombe, 1991), voluntary (Cannold, 2004; 2005) and circumstantial childlessness (Cannold, 2005; Seccombe, 1991); delayed childbearing (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008); and the rise of feminism, which has afforded women better access to education and employment, and more control over their reproductive lives (Gillespie, 2003; Seccombe, 1991).

Despite changing gender norms and increasing percentages of women having no children, mothering remains essential to constructions of womanhood (Gillespie, 2000; 2003; Letherby, 2002a). However, intersections between gender and other structures and discourses (such as neoliberal citizen-worker discourses requiring women as well as men to work in order to be full citizens of capitalist societies) have made possible additional roles for women, such that mothering is no longer the sole feature of womanhood (Chesterman & Ross-Smith, 2010; Lupton & Schmied, 2002; Parris & Vickers, 2010). Accordingly, there may be domains of life, such as the economic domain, in which the potential of women without children to perform other "valued" roles may promote connection and inclusion, and ameliorate the risk of marginalisation, stigmatisation and social exclusion.

Notwithstanding the risk of social exclusion and its associated poor health and wellbeing outcomes for the increasing numbers of Australian women without children, there is a dearth of research examining the social connection and exclusion of women without children from or within the multiple domains of life (economic, social, civic and service). Accordingly, there is currently an incomplete picture of social connection and exclusion among women without children. This study therefore aims to describe the social connection and exclusion of Australian women with no children during midlife. This research is the first to explore the nature of pronatalism-driven connection and exclusion of women with no children in their post-reproductive midlife years, in multiple domains of life in Australian society.

Before outlining the methods, it is important to acknowledge that what to call women without children has been acknowledged as problematic. The literature includes various terms describing women without children, none of which is without negative connotations. For example, the term "non-mother" implies a lack or deficiency, and emphasises what the woman is not, rather than what she is (Bartlett, 1995; Morell, 1994). Similarly, "childless," the most commonly used term to describe women with no children, explicitly emphasises "lacking" something or being "lesser" (Letherby, 1994; Morell, 1994). While "childfree" was originally coined as a positive expression of women's choice not to have children, the term has since been associated with being carefree, implying immaturity, freedom from caring and responsibilities, and selfishness (Letherby & Williams, 1999). Many involuntarily childless women also object to being called childfree and find it offensive. Despite the problematic terminology, a typology has emerged and been used to explore the phenomenon. The typology categorises women as involuntarily childless (those who wish to have children but are unable to achieve a viable pregnancy), voluntarily childless (those who freely choose not to have children), or circumstantially childless (those who are unable to have children due to life circumstances, for example, financial insecurity, having no partner, or health issues other than those preventing viable pregnancy). Notwithstanding the negative connotations of the terminology, this typology captures the fluidity of the spectrum of choice and circumstance open to women with no children. Throughout this paper the term "women without children" is used as a collective term to describe women who do not have children, unless specifically referring to a typology of woman with no children, in which case the established terminology is used in order to maintain consistency in the literature.

2. Methods

This exploratory mixed methods study aimed to describe the social connection and exclusion of Australian women with no children during midlife (defined as aged 45 to 64 years). A total of 294 female Australian residents aged 45 to 64 years, who were not pregnant and identified as never having assumed the role or identity of a biological or social mother (for example, of step, adopted or fostered-children) was recruited. The women self-identified as involuntarily childless, voluntarily childless, or circumstantially childless.

The methods for the quantitative component of the mixed-methods study have previously been reported in detail (Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2016b). While noting the quantitative and qualitative components used the same sampling, recruitment and data collection methods, this paper describes in detail only the methods relevant to the qualitative component. In the absence of a sampling frame of women without children, probability sampling methods were not possible. Given this, women were purposively sampled to ensure participants were information rich, adding strength to the qualitative component of the mixed methods study (Onwuegbuzie & Collins, 2007). Participants were recruited via multiple online and community-based sites including: Internet sites, online support groups, blogs and social media likely to be accessed by Australian women without children; advertising in Australian women's health services' newsletters; promoting the study throughout professional networks; and snowball sampling. Additionally, an existing dedicated Facebook page was utilised. This recruitment approach is advantageous as it enables researchers to reach a principally invisible and hard-to-reach population (Van Selm & Jankowski, 2006) and is similar to strategies used in previous studies with women without children (Coffey, 2007; Turnbull et al., 2016a; Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2017). In total, 40 organisations and six blogs and Facebook pages likely to be accessed by the women without children, promoted the study. The community-based and online sites were selected based on credibility (being a legitimate service or organisation), commitment to women's issues, and providing women with a voice.

The women provided qualitative data by completing open-ended questions in a self-administered online questionnaire. The open-ended questions used the critical incident technique, a flexible approach which can be used to collect data describing events, problems and experiences (Butterfield et al., 2005). These open-ended questions were used to obtain detailed accounts of participant's positive and negative experiences within the social, civic, service and economic domains. For example, the social domain included questions that asked "thinking about your participation in social and leisure activities, can you think of a time when you had a positive or negative experience related to not having children? If so, please describe the incident in detail in the space provided" and "Thinking about your family and friends, can you think of a time when you had a positive or negative experience related to not having children? If so, please describe the incident in the space provided." Of the 294 women who participated in the mixed methods study, 245 provided qualitative data. The socio-demographic characteristics of the women who provided qualitative data are provided in Table 1.

Data was thematically analysed following the process described by Miles and Huberman (1994). Thematic analysis is inductive in its approach, enabling the identification of themes in the data (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011). The qualitative responses were read and re-read to identify codes. Codes were merged into categories, from which themes were established. While the data was collected under the life domains used to structure the questionnaire, analysis took place across the domains rather than within each domain. For example, experiences of needing to justify reproductive choices emerged across all domains, leading to all instances of this experience being given the same code, including those occurring in different settings such as social interaction and employment. Codes relating to the need to justify choices were then merged with other relevant codes into a "judgement" category, from which the theme "them and us" was established to capture the divide that exists between women with and without children. Themes were then explored across the data set and all domains to ensure that they accurately represented the patterns and responses presented in the data. In the findings and discussion, participant quotations are used to illustrate the women's experiences across all domains of life. The initial analysis was conducted by an experienced qualitative researcher who did not take part in the quantitative component of the study which could potentially have impacted the generation of codes, categories and themes. Quotations are attributed using identification numbers (denoted as ID), typology of woman with no children (voluntarily childless, involuntarily childless, and circumstantially childless), and age. Ethics approval for this study was obtained from Deakin University (HEAGH 175_2013).

3. Findings and Discussion

The findings reveal that women without children perceive multiple layers of social exclusion: at the societal level, where many women without children are aware of pronatalist policy agendas supporting the positioning of mothers as "insiders" and women without children as "outsiders"; at the community level, where women without children experience stigma and discrimination within community groups, events, services and workplaces; and at the individual level within families and friendship groups, where non-mothering impacts social interactions. The overarching theme, them and us, identified in the qualitative responses, represents the binary that exists between women with and without children. These two groups are presented as discrete categories and are set up in opposition to each other. In the experiences and perceptions of women without children in this study, motherhood is inextricably linked to being a woman, and women without children do not conform to the norms and expectations of society. Within this overarching theme, women reported being shamed, stigmatised and socially excluded at the societal level through government policy; the community level through community groups, events and services; and the individual level through interactions with friends and family. This second theme, multiple layers of social exclusion, describes the exclusion experienced by the women, and includes both the public and private spheres, whereby the private issue of reproductive choices and circumstances is shifted into the public sphere for scrutiny and comment (Figure 1).

3.1. Them and us

The overarching theme, them and us, describes the common position many of the women highlighted based on their non-mothering status, which situates women without children as "outsiders" and women with children as "insiders."
There is a 'them and us' attitude regarding children, and I am excluded
because I don't have children. (ID 191, voluntarily childless, 62)

This reflects existing theory and research, which suggest dominant pronatalist ideologies drive social exclusion of women without children by creating social boundaries due to women's non-conformity with dominant social norms (Carey, Graham, & Shelley, 2009; Letherby, 1999; McCarthy, 2008; Silver, 2007; Taket et al., 2009; Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2017). Women without children are stigmatised and excluded as deviant "outsiders," whereas women with children are constructed as idealised "insiders" due to their conformance with prevailing social norms (Graham & Rich, 2014; Graham & Rich, 2012; Sawer, 2013; Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2016a). Furthermore, this study found many women without children feel that other people and society as a whole position the women's other life achievements, such as their careers, relationships, and community involvement, as irrelevant and less important than motherhood. Many of the women felt that motherhood is perceived as the defining feature of all women, which leads to the assumption of the (heterosexual) nuclear family being the norm, whereby women with (male) partners and children are the epitome a "family" in the social narratives and norms of society.

In highlighting the them and us divide, many of the women described experiences in which others judged and stereotyped them because they had no children, leading to women feeling stigmatised and shamed. Some women commented that there had been changes in judgement and stigmatisation over time. Some women felt this was a result of moving past their reproductive years, and others felt society was becoming more accepting of women who transgressed traditional gender roles. The theme them and us comprised of two sub-themes: woman equals mother: judging non-conforming feminine identities; and shame and stigma: deviant feminine identities.

3.1.1. Woman equals mother: Judging non-conforming feminine identities

Many women in this study felt others viewed them as not meeting society's norms and expectations that all women can, want to, and will, be mothers. As women with no children, and therefore non-conforming feminine identities, some of the women felt they were viewed as not "normal," "complete" or "whole" women. For some, this was a general feeling or experience.
Yes there is definitely a feeling I have that I am not a complete woman
because I don't have children. (ID 88, involuntarily child-less, 45)

I feel I am not regarded as complete or happy--how could I be when I
have never experienced being whole, according to mothers.... It's more
of a feeling that I don't count, as I haven't had children. That I'm
not a proper woman. That I couldn't possibly understand. (ID 173,
circumstantially childless, 49)

Other women recalled specific and explicit experiences of others assuming that all women are mothers and expressing negative views about women without children.
When engaging with a client about her children she made a comment that
'you would know this as you have children.' When I said I didn't have
children, the client accused me of being 'abnormal' and 'not a woman.'
(ID 27, voluntarily childless, 54)

I was told it wasn't natural for a woman not to want children when I
was asked if I had children. (ID 22, voluntarily childless, 46)

Many women described experiences in which the assumption that all women are mothers led to their private reproductive choices and circumstances being laid open to judgement in the public sphere. In contrast to women with children, who are perceived as normal and conforming to society's expectations, women with no children felt judged as "abnormal" and then "felt sorry" for.
Many people view me as odd or abnormal because I have never wanted
children. Many view me negatively because of this and make value
judgments about my life. Some appear to feel sorry for me, and some are
downright hostile. (ID 72, voluntarily childless, 45)

Previous research has found women without children are viewed as deficient, unnatural, irresponsible, selfish, immature, hedonistic, discrediting, and failing to contribute to society (Dever & Saugeres, 2004; Graham & Rich, 2014; Graham & Rich, 2012; Heard, 2006; Lampman & Dowling-Guyer, 1995; Maher & Saugeres, 2007; Rich et al., 2011; Tietjens-Meyers, 2001; Turnbull et al., 2016a; 2016b). These characterisations are driven by pronatalist ideologies constructing motherhood as natural, innate, patriotic and inevitable, and situating women without children as "outsiders" (Carey et al., 2009; McCarthy, 2008; Miall, 1994).

Many of the women in the study highlighted a double standard: while women without children are judged and questioned about their choices and circumstances, they refrain from questioning and judging women with children.
Predominantly just really sick of everyone thinking that my choices are
their business and somehow they have the right to question why I don't
have children. I don't question everyone that does have children about
why they did (even though it seems like a crazy choice to me :)). (ID
119, voluntarily childless, 46)

I have made a choice knowingly. There is nothing wrong with me, I am
not strange and I am happy. Do not assume that because you have
children that I share your dream of having them. Accept me for who I
am, not who you think I should be. I don't criticise you for
wanting/having children so why do you do the reverse to me. (ID 33,
voluntarily childless, 45)

As evident in the above quotations, the women questioned why they need to justify their position on such a private issue when they did not expect women with children to do the same. This reflects a double standard discussed in previous research, which has found that women without children are often asked to explain and justify their non-mothering status (Graham et al., 2013; Turnbull et al., 2016a; 2016b; Veevers, 1980; Woollett, 1991), yet women with children are not required to justify their parenthood status as it adheres to social norms (Kirkman, 2001; Marshall, 1993). Furthermore, while voluntarily childless women are often asked to justify why they do not want children, involuntarily childless women are often asked to justify why they do want children (Kirkman, 2001; Pfeffer & Woollett, 1983). For example, Kirkman (2001: 531) found involuntarily childless women felt resentful and frustrated that others: expected them to justify wanting become mothers; and, upon such justification, "judged [them] on their worth as potential parents." The requirement for justification and subsequent judgement were deemed unavoidable and necessary, highlighting their felt need to demonstrate conformity to ascribed gender roles in pronatalist societies.

Some of the women in this study reported others' assumptions they were infertile. The assumption women have no children due to medical reasons disregards the multiple reasons why women do not have children, including choice or circumstances. Further, it removes the element of choice and disregards the reproductive decisions women make.
When introduced to new people at a social gathering, I got the usual
questioning sequence of 'what do you do?' then 'do you have children?'.
(Of course men are never asked whether or not they have kids, just
women). And when I replied 'no', was asked 'why not, couldn't you have
children?'. The assumption that infertility is the only reason is
appalling enough, but the inference that I'm required to justify a
massively personal circumstance with a total stranger is outrageous.
(ID 241, circumstantially childless, 46)

However, some of the women experienced the reverse assumption that they chose not to have children. Questioning women's reproductive choices sometimes led to thoughtless comments without understanding the impact on women, who were perhaps childless not due to choice.
Yes, people assume because I'm unmarried and have no children that I
don't want children. I did want children but didn't find the right
partner until it was too late. I decided I was too old after I tried
unsuccessfully. (ID 218, involuntarily childless, 48)

I have been told that 'I chose to not have children' when in fact I was
unable to not have children. This assumption causes me pain and upset
because I am then reminded of the trauma (sexual assault) and why I am
infertile. (ID 3, involuntarily childless, 51)

Some women commented that they did not always tell people that they chose not to have children, in order to avoid judgements and assumptions attached to why women do not have children.
I don't even tell people I chose not to have children (other than my
partner) as people react defensively. (ID 212, voluntarily childless,

Consistent with previous research (Doyle, Pooley, & Breen, 2013; Morell, 1994; Park, 2005; Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2016a; 2016b), some women in this study concealed, and / or used information control strategies to subvert, their deviant identities and manage the associated stigma (Todorova & Kotzeva, 2003; Whiteford & Gonzalez, 1995).

Many women spoke of other people not taking their decision or situation seriously and telling them that they would change their minds and want or have children. This included being told that they were "missing out" by not having children, reflecting the pervasive assumption and stereotype that all women will have children.
Up until about age 40 being constantly told I would change my mind. (ID
119, voluntarily childless, 46)

Waiting outside a school to pick up a teacher friend. Mums waiting for
kids, speaking about their kids. They asked me how old my one was. I
said I didn't have any. They kept on telling me I was missing out,
would feel unfulfilled, that I wasn't doing what I was made to do, was
one of those selfish career women. Then they became nasty when I kept
replying that I just never wanted kids. (ID 167, circumstantially
childless, 50)

So many times, when I was younger (more in my 30's than now) I've been
told by other women how much I'm missing out by not having children.
I've almost had to defend my right not to have children and now I
simply won't discuss it with most people. (ID 275, voluntarily
childless, 51)

Other women felt they had missed out on something, now that they were older and reflecting on their lives.
My sister has now got grandchildren and I see how much pleasure they
give her. As I've got older, not having children has made me feel like
I've missed something and have big gaps in my life. (ID 261,
circumstantially childless, 54)

I am thinking of personal fulfilment with this one. I feel like I have
missed out on my calling and that often leaves me feeling a bit bereft.
However, as time goes on, I can manage those feelings better. (ID 193,
circumstantially childless, 48)

An extension of being viewed by others as "missing out" is the accompanying feelings. Some of the women commented that others often pitied and felt sorry for them. As discussed above, some of the women felt viewed as "failures" and not "complete," and judged for not having children. This highlights assumptions that all women are mothers, that women's central purpose is to mother, and that women who do not mother require pity and sympathy.
People in general seem to be sad for me when I tell them I have no
children. (ID 15, circumstantially childless, 48)

I can't think of a specific time but often feel others'
disbelief/pity/bewilderment when I say that I don't have children. (ID
26, voluntarily childless, 53)

Previous research suggests involuntarily childless women believe they are perceived as pitiable, shameful and desperate (Clarke, Martin-Matthews, & Matthews, 2006; Letherby, 1999). Findings from the current study suggest voluntarily and circumstantially childless women believe they are viewed in the same way.

The women identified numerous stereotypes that others (often people with children) attached to them as women without children, including disliking children, being selfish, and being free of any responsibilities.
I am not always invited to events in my family and friends lives that
involve children such as birthday parties, and was told by one that
since I didn't have kids I wouldn't be interested (as though the lack
of kids meant no interest in kids). (ID 62, circumstantially childless,

As evident in the quotations below, the rhetoric of being selfish was conveyed by family and potential partners, and in the work environment.
Sometimes when dating, men who are fathers tend to think something is
wrong with me because I don't have children. I really don't feel like
explaining complicated health issues to them so they just assume I am
selfish! (ID 7, involuntarily childless, 54)

Manager directly accused me of not contributing to society & being
selfish and not normal. (ID 72, voluntarily childless, 45)

My mother is perhaps the loudest critic I've had. As a woman who was
herself unable to conceive (I'm adopted) in an era when women were
expected to be mothers (the '60s), she has always seemed convinced that
the primary role of a woman is to care for children. Although she
hasn't voiced it in some years, I know her core belief is that women
without children are inherently selfish. Ergo, I am selfish. (ID 73,
voluntarily childless, 48)

At a family gathering one day my brother in law said outright that
childless couples are selfish/only care about themselves, knowing that
I was the only person in the room at the time who that statement
applied to so the insult was intended solely for me. He had assumed my
being childless was by choice as we had never discussed what my
preference was. (ID 226, circumstantially childless, 47)

Previous studies suggest others stereotype voluntarily childless women as ignorant about and having a dislike for children, non-nurturing, emotionally lacking, and selfish (Doyle et al., 2013; Gillespie, 2000; Maher & Saugeres, 2007; Mollen, 2006; Mueller & Yoder, 1997; 1999; Park, 2002); and involuntarily childless women as sad, suffering, desperate and "victims" of childlessness (Franklin, 1990; Letherby, 2002a; 2002b). Due to such negative stereotypes, women without children may experience considerable social stigmatisation. This is discussed further in the sub-theme shame and stigma: deviant feminine identities.

In the present study, women believed they were stereotyped as not having any responsibilities or commitments, corresponding with the assumption only women with children could have responsibilities. Again, this highlights women's role as mothers rather than women as individuals with diverse responsibilities specific to their situation. In addition, many of the women felt others did not understand or recognise that women without children also need emotional and practical support and assistance.
It is assumed that I have nothing else to do--so I'm available for work
or caring for elderly parents. (ID 52, voluntarily childless, 48)

I sometimes feel as though my family and friends view my life as
'easier' and therefore my problems are less worthy of support or
interest because I don't have children. (ID 219, circumstantially
childless, 50)

As single woman no kids, I was expected by family and society to care
for elderly parents, as the implication was I had no other
responsibilities or 'a life' generally. (ID 247, circumstantially
childless, 57)

My mother always offered some support financially--limited to my
siblings with children. When I asked her about this she said that I
don't have children so I don't need it. (ID 186, circumstantially
childless, 54)

As shown in the quotations above, others' perceptions that women without children lack responsibilities, in turn leads to others' assumptions about what women without children can and should be doing. This includes things such as caring for elderly parents, working around and accommodating those with children, and not needing financial assistance. The assumption that women without children have no responsibilities is based on the notion that women's only responsibilities are procreation and motherhood (Gillespie, 2003; Letherby, 1994; Turnbull et al., 2016a; 2016b).

3.1.2 Shame and stigma: Deviant feminine identities

Many of the women commented they felt shamed and stigmatised due to the judgement, assumptions, and stereotypes placed on women without children. This highlights the them and us categories where one category is viewed as normal and successful ("insider") and the other as "abnormal" and a "failure" ("outsider").
You're viewed as a failure--being single makes its worse.--It's used to
shame me. (ID 122, circumstantially childless, 49)

Generally, I feel there is a social stigma attached to not having
children. Whether it be at bookclub or at the gym or on other
occasions--you meet someone and they ask 'do you have children?' It is
that response that you get from some 'oh.' (ID 118, involuntarily
childless, 50)

The stigmatisation and shaming experienced by the women for not having children can lead to discrimination and exclusion. The literature has also identified stigmatisation as a significant aspect of the lives of many women without children. Goffman (1963: 3) conceptualised stigma as an attribute that discredits individuals, impairing their social acceptability by reducing them "in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one." Given that, in pronatalist societies, not mothering is a discreditable attribute (Rich et al., 2011) that is not immediately visible but rather becomes apparent (Goffman, 1963), women may be stigmatised when they cannot, or choose not to, become mothers. Women without children lack the social identity and attribute of mother, which marks them as "other," devalues them within pronatalist societies, and forms the basis for exclusion.
Not having children was devastating and I cried for years but the
discrimination and exclusion is extraordinary. Nothing can prepare you
for how downright mean people are. Nothing. If you lose a baby people
are kind to you but if you have complex grief related to infertility
you are not allowed to talk about it ever. The constant message is that
you are not an adult like parents are adults and that you don't know
what love is. (ID 50, involuntarily childless, 48)

As the quotation above demonstrates, many women without children receive a constant message that all women are mothers, and some feel shamed by others for failing to achieve the ascribed life script of womanhood. Messages such as these disregard the complexities of individual women's unique contexts, choices and circumstances.

Many of the women often felt as though their actions and opinions about motherhood and children were disregarded as they had no personal experience, even if they worked with children or were close to families' and friends' children. This finding draws attention to the discounting of non-mothers' authority regarding children's issues, with a privileging of personal authority over professional authority.
As a non-parent, I feel excluded from discourse around parenting and
social welfare matters. It's as if, without a genetic investment in the
future, my experiences and educated views are invalid. (ID 241,
circumstantially childless, 46)

When I was at a friend's gathering and I offered to look after a baby
because the mother was busy and other mothers kept checking on me to
make sure I was feeding the baby 'properly' and offering me advice--I
am a midwife and neonatal nurse which they had 'forgotten.' (ID 42,
undisclosed type of childless, 58)

In relation to behaviour management, I was expressing my professional
thoughts on a matter and was told by a friend that I was talking
bullshit, and how would I know as I never had children. My training and
my experiences were dismissed instantly due to her stereotype. A sister
also said similar things to me when her children were young and I made
comment about behaviour management, my professional status and my
opinions were devalued due to not actually giving birth to a child.
(ID 62, circumstantially childless, 50)

Just in general conversation regarding children and their care, when
people say, oh you don't understand because you don't have children.
That is such a limited understanding of humans. (ID 77, voluntarily
childless, 59)

Despite caring for many children over the years, I have experienced
both women and men state 'what would you know about children.' (ID 105,
involuntarily childless, 50)

This discourse sets up a divide between who is knowledgeable about children and who is not, regardless of other experiences with children. Further, it dictates whose voices are heard and given weight over others'. Evident in this discourse is the idea of mothers as "credible" in relation to all aspects of children, and women without children as "discreditable" despite their professional and personal expertise and experiences (Carey et al., 2009; Gillespie, 2000; Lampman & Dowling-Guyer, 1995; Letherby, 1994; 2000; Letherby & Williams, 1999; Miall, 1986; Park, 2002; Rich et al., 2011; Riessman, 2000). This further highlights the "them and us" divide, positioning mothers as "insiders," and women without children as "outsiders" who are unable to contribute to the care of or knowledge about children.

For some women, the judgements, stigmatisation and stereotypes had changed over time now that they had moved beyond their reproductive years.
At a younger age most definitely, as I chose to not have children I
feel most woman found that rather confronting. Now that I am older I
feel the stigma has dropped off but I still get women in particular who
feel sorry for me. (ID 56, voluntarily childless, 45)

Although it doesn't happen as much now, when I was a younger adult
there were many times I was told to 'go out and get a man so you can
have the kids and be happy like a proper women.' Luckily I grew out of
caring what others thought and it has no impact on me now. I have lost
friends due to my single status (apparently I am a threat) and had
negative opinions about my life choices thrown at me, as though others
think it is OK to judge me against their values and standards. I don't
feel empty for not having children but hate when others try to make me
feel empty. (ID 62, circumstantially childless, 50)

Other women commented that perhaps society's assumptions about women as mothers have changed over time, with greater acceptance now of women without children.
The last 10 years have been better--not sure whether that's because I
feel more confident in who I am, or whether society is more accepting
now. Previously I have been stigmatised many times. I have been called
'weird,' 'selfish,' 'strange,' 'unnatural' numerous times. (ID 254,
voluntarily childless, 53)

Whether it is because I am now older and almost past the age of child
bearing, or because I mix with a different group of people, or because
generally attitudes are changing (or a bit of all three); I find that
whether I have children or not has less relevance to those around me.
People no longer question my decision or expect me to change my mind. I
am no longer called selfish and just occasionally those with children
say how lucky I am! I find many of the big events in the [city name]
are geared towards families, though I can find those that aren't (I
just have to hunt a bit harder). Finally, the language
people/organisations/institutions continue to use is judgmental--more
often than not a couple without children are not considered to be equal
status to a 'family.' (ID 45, voluntarily childless, 47)

As evident in the above quotations, some women perceive that opinions about women without children are improving. In contrast, research with women without children aged 25 to 44 years found many participants felt that judgement, stigma, and stereotyping were pervasive (Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2016a; 2016b). It is possible the women in the current study perceived less judgement, stigmatisation, and stereotyping because their post-reproductive age rendered their motherhood status of less significance to themselves and others. Social change is a slow process and the pervading assumption that women are mothers and the norm of the nuclear family are still persistent in society.

3.2. Multiple layers of social exclusion

The women identified experiencing exclusion at multiple levels, including the societal level in the context of the policy environment, the community level such as services and workplaces, and the individual level of family and friends. Exclusion at these levels included both public and private spheres, whereby the private issue of reproduction was bought into the public sphere through: policy not supporting women; communities and services designed for women with children; and family and friends questioning the women's reproductive choices and circumstances. Many women highlighted that the nuclear family is supported by policy, councils, communities, and workplaces. This public support indicates women with children are deserving of assistance and inclusion, and women without children (who regardless of partner status are not considered a family) are not. Within this theme, four sub-themes emerged: pronatalist policy: a focus on traditional family constructs; family and children-centric community groups, events and services; workplaces: assumptions, judgements and discrimination; and interactions with family and friends.

3.2.1. Pronatalist policy: A focus on traditional family constructs

Some women spoke about being overlooked by the government due to not having children. Policy rhetoric and position are focused on families, and in particular traditional nuclear families, disregarding other family types including single or partnered women without children. These women discussed family-focused pronatalist policy in terms of how family is defined ("working families"), income, tax breaks and incentives ("doing it tough"), and how this political rhetoric made them feel "marginalised," "invisible" and "excluded."
The pronatalist policies from both sides of politics saw that
child-free people, no matter how poor, were fiscally conscripted to
have their incomes redistributed into the pockets of those adults with
children, no matter how rich. That is, childless people's taxes were
not spent on social goods and services for children, but were spent on
middle class welfare for those adults who were merely fecund. This
seems to be justified on some spurious notion that childfree people are
all feckless hedonists who are, at best, accessing an
unearned/undeserved personal benefit or, at worst, are failing to
contribute to society. In a disingenuous conclusion, this confected
fantasy permitted some policy makers depicted the childfree as the
oppressors of the child-burdened. (ID 223, voluntarily childless, 45)

Similarly, other research has found women without children feel invisible and ignored in political discourse and social policy (Rich et al., 2011; Turnbull et al., 2016b), which is heightened by the ubiquitous focus on families with children. Australia has a long history of pronatalist policies aiming to improve fertility rates for the "social good" of the country (Heard, 2006), including, in recent times, the introduction of the "Baby Bonus" in 2004, which was abolished in 2014 and replaced with the Paid Parental Scheme, and a range of family tax benefits initiatives. These policy directions have increased birth rates (Rawlings, Robson, & Ding, 2016) and are financially beneficial to mothers (Garrett et al., 2017). However, now entrenched within political rhetoric is a focus on "families" (implicitly including only those with children), which ultimately marginalises the growing number of women (and men) without children, and challenges the idea of representative democracy.

In the present research, the policy focus on the term "families" and the meaning behind it, left women without children feeling excluded from and marginalised by social policy discussion.
By politicians who constantly refer to the importance of the
family--can make me feel totally marginalised. (ID 67, circumstantially
childless, 55)

Politicians are always talking about the importance of supporting
families and making Australia/Victoria a great place for families. I
feel this excludes the many community members who don't have children,
including me. (ID 232, voluntarily childless, 47)

We are a growing group [women with no children], yet governments are
always all about 'working families,' especially when they are 'doing it
tough.' Families aren't the only ones who have hard times or need
support. Governments have made me feel invisible all my life and like I
utterly don't matter. (ID 164, oluntarily childless, 45)

Politicians hate us! The tax man hates us! The Government bang on and
on about 'families doing it tough' and seemingly all of their policies
relate to Australians who are parents and their children. Tax breaks
are for parents. Childless middle-aged women are not included or ever
talked about. (ID 189, circumstantially childless, 45)

An extension of the political discussion is the lack of policy action and avenues for women without children. For example, some women highlighted the lack of tax breaks or financial support they receive, compared to women and families with children.
I wish there was more tax deductions for women who don't have children.
We always miss out in the federal budget with tax incentives etc. (ID
210, involuntarily childless, 50)

The so-called 'middle-class welfare' is exclusively for people who have
children. (ID 126, voluntarily childless, 52)

Government tax benefits or just benefits in general do not apply to me.
Every time a budget is handed down, I miss out on anything! I feel like
I am supporting families with children--they get all the
benefits--don't have kids if you can't afford them & stop putting a
drain on society! There is not equality for all--I feel discriminated
against because I don't have a partner or children! Where is the
fairness in the system? I don't want to pay for others to have kids!
(ID 86, circumstantially childless, 50)

The pronatalist policy rhetoric on supporting families and women with children adds to the divide between them and us, highlighting who is deserving of assistance and support, and who is not. This type of policy rhetoric is underpinned by traditional notions of social exclusion (Taket et al., 2009), whereby individuals are either "deserving," those who are unable to support themselves (in this case families and women with children who are seen as contributing to the greater good of society), or "undeserving," those who in theory should be able to support themselves (in this case women without children, who have no responsibilities beyond themselves and are not seen as contributing to society).

3.2.2. Family and children-centric community groups, events, and services

Many of the women identified family and children-focused community groups, events, and services from which they felt "excluded." These included activities organised by local councils, church events, holiday festivals, and community events. The women felt that communities prioritise women with children, with many community functions, events, and services revolving around or being aimed at families with children. The women felt "left out" and not "supported" in these environments.
Everything is focused on kids. Entertainment at functions through to
sporting events. I'd like to see more adult sophisticated
entertainment. (ID 10, circumstantially childless, 51)

At the protestant church I attend, much support is available for
pregnant congregationers and those with young children who were all
married, but no support was available to myself even when I had no food
and I had no family to help. (ID 44, circumstantially childless, 49)

My Church has an annual picnic and I would like to go but feel left out
and silly because I would be by myself (my partner doesn't go to
church). Church events are very family orientated. (ID 17,
circumstantially childless, 47)

In addition to many women not feeling welcome to attend such events, leading to exclusion, some women felt they would be questioned if they did attend.
Most holiday festivals are geared to children and sometimes you feel
left out or awkward watching other people have fun. (ID 290,
circumstantially childless, 56)

I volunteered at the school fete, overheard someone saying they did not
know why I was there as I had no children. (ID 109, involuntarily
childless, 45)

Going to community sport and being asked why you were there. (ID 70,
circumstantially childless, 47)

One woman was told she could not attend a gym session as she did not have children, regardless of the session being convenient for her situation.
I was attending a gym with friends for group 'personal' training. The
trainer/owner was promoting a new circuit class that was running at
9.30am 'for mums--to fit in with school drop-off.' As a shift-worker,
this time-slot was perfect for me and so I expressed an interest in
attending but was told that I couldn't because I didn't have children.
I never returned to that gym! (ID 8, circumstantially childless, 49)

It has been posited that low engagement, due to perceived exclusion, of women without children in community-based activities may be a result of the salience of stigmatising interpersonal experiences in these contexts (Turnbull et al., 2016a).

Some women commented they did not necessarily want to share public spaces with children. However, they felt this was viewed as unacceptable by others and they would be excluded for feeling this way. This further highlights the importance society and communities place on children and spaces for families, demonstrating the divide between those with and without children.
I feel excluded for not wanting to share public and private spaces with
children... I feel people with children are prioritised in our
community--it is not acceptable to not want to share public and private
spaces with children. (ID 52, voluntarily childless, 48)

The family and children-centric nature of community groups, events, and services has consequences for the participation of women without children. Women without children can find it difficult to become involved in the community, which is exacerbated when moving to a new area. For example, some women discussed the challenge of making new friends when they moved.
Harder to make friends when we shifted town. (ID 70, circumstantially
childless, 47)

It has been suggested children function as a bridge that connects mothers to other individuals and society (Albertini & Mencarini, 2012). This occurs through mothers' groups, schools, and other activities such as sports.

3.2.3. Workplaces: Assumptions, judgements, and discrimination

The workplace was a source of exclusion for many women as a result of discrimination, negative judgements, and assumptions, demonstrating the them and us divide within the workplace.
Yes, in my work (in healthcare) I was strongly discriminated against by
my co-workers. I was indirectly accused of being selfish,
irresponsible, immature and incapable of caring for children because I
'have never had children of my own.' I was treated with contempt and
disrespect by other female co-workers and my direct manager. This
caused me great distress and upset... I would have very much liked to
have had children and think I would have made a very good Mother. (ID
3, involuntarily childless, 51)

I have worked in places which are female dominated where other women
were dismissive and non inclusive of me because of my lack of children.
(ID 225, circumstantially childless, 53)

When I took time off work due to illness, I was made to feel guilty by
a female co-worker (who has children), calling time off a 'luxury'
working mothers cannot afford. (ID 272, voluntarily childless, 47)

These findings are similar to previous research which suggests women without children experience more workplace mistreatment, including exclusion, derogation, and coercion, than women with children in female and male dominated workplaces (Berdahl & Moon, 2013). Additionally, involuntarily childless women have reported workplaces as being unsafe and distressing (Malik & Coulson, 2013).

Many of the women indicated different expectations were imposed on women with children compared to women without children. For example, the women stated workplaces were more flexible for women with children, including in relation to working hours, flexible working arrangements and job tasks.
I asked to go to 4 days a week at work. I was told I did not need to
because I did not have children. (ID 178, voluntarily childless, 56)
Less flexibility at work where women with children seem to have more
flexibility because they have children. (ID 283, involuntarily
childless, 50)

During shift work. The best shifts seem to go to those who have
children. The assumption is that child-free people don't have lives
outside of work, so can be given more hours, worse shifts, less
flexibility. (ID 131, voluntarily childless, 45)

Some women commented they were expected to work longer hours or take on more work due to not having children. At times this was to compensate for women with children, who were not expected to do the same given their family responsibilities.
Yes as a single woman in the workforce--it is just assumed it will be
you who will stay back late without complaint because you aren't seen
to have the legitimate 'excuse' of balancing work and family
commitments. Similarly you are often given last consideration for leave
requests because 'parents need to take school holidays.' Sometimes I
would like to take time off in school holidays too so that I can spend
time with the only children I am close to in my life--my two
nephews--but such requests are not generally considered to be as
meritorious as those of biological parents. (ID 230, circumstantially
childless, 53)

Various times at work where the expectation was that I would stay
behind to complete work of mothers because I did not have to leave to
pick up children. (ID 231, voluntarily childless, 49)

I am often asked to pick up the big projects or extra work as other
women in the workplace have children, and women & men with children get
first choice on when they want holidays, and I am not able to get part
time arrangements as so many women with children are working part time.
(ID 72, voluntarily childless, 45)

Whilst working I found I was often expected to be available to travel
and work late as I had no children. (ID 238, circumstantially
childless, 52)

These findings support prior research (Dixon & Dougherty, 2014; Doyle et al., 2013; Mollen, 2006; Peterson & Engwall, 2016; Turnbull et al., 2016a; 2016b) which suggests women without children can experience discrimination in the workplace. For example, employers can expect women without children to: work extra and longer hours, weekends and holidays; cover for women with children who leave early for caring responsibilities; and take on additional work due to the perception they have more time and no outside responsibilities compared with women with children.

The women commented that leave over Christmas and school holidays would be prioritised for those with children, regardless of whether they also wanted to take leave at this time.
I have experienced at work far great leniency with giving time-off and
providing other benefits to women with children, whereas if I ask for
some time off I am scrutinised as to why I want time off and made to
feel that I am being 'selfish' for making that request. (ID 3,
involuntarily childless, 51)

I am never able to access leave (except in emergencies) during school
holidays, as that leave is generally reserved for people with children.
(ID 16, circumstantially childless, 55)

By not being permitted to take leave over the Christmas period because
'that is reserved for people with children.' (ID 27, voluntarily
childless, 54)

Flexible working arrangements were also perceived as being only available to families with children.
In the workplace women with young families have access to better work
benefits in regards to flexible working arrangements. I am a major
carer for my mother and similar 'leave' arrangements are not available.
(ID 89, voluntarily childless, 60)

These findings are congruent with previous research in a wide variety of workplaces which suggests women without children have lower control over work hours (Swanberg, Pitt-Catsouphes, & Drescher-Burke, 2005), limited access to flexible working arrangements (Skinner & Pocock, 2011) and leave entitlements, and accessed fewer employment benefits than women with children (Graham et al., 2013; Hamilton, Gordon, & Whelan-Berry, 2006; Turnbull et al., 2016a; 2016b).

The them and us divide was also evident in terms of who was in need, or "deserving," of a promotion based on having children.
My employers are heavily biased toward marriage and children. Salary,
benefits and respect are heavily inclined toward team members who are
married and have kids. I experienced this when going from single to
married, then divorced. Difference is palpable. Married + kids
definitely favourably compared. (ID 175, circumstantially childless, 51)

I have been poor. And when I was poor and working in hospitality, I was
informed that the reason why I missed out on a promotion to a man was
because 'he has a family to support.' (ID 223, voluntarily childless,

Similarly, previous research has found women thought not having children affected their career opportunities, for example, due to employers believing employment and promotion were more important for people with children (in particular men, who continue to be seen as breadwinners) (Dixon & Dougherty, 2014; Kelan, 2014; Turnbull et al., 2016a,b).

However, despite the negative experiences reported by the women, some women also reported positive experiences within the workplace due to not having children.
I think I've experienced positive discrimination in work settings
because I have no children. At least once that I know of I was the
preferred candidate for a job because I have no children. (ID 281,
voluntarily childless, 56)

This finding accords with existing research suggesting that, in comparison to women with children, women without children tend to have higher individual incomes, and are more likely to be employed, work full-time, and work in high status occupations (Cooke, 2014; Gash, 2009; Miranti et al., 2009; Parr, 2005; Petersen, Penner, & Hogsnes, 2007; Watson, 2010; Whitehouse, 2002). However, women without children remain less likely to work full-time, and continue to have lower individual incomes, than men with and without children (Cooke, 2014; Gash, 2009; Misra, Budig, & Boeckmann, 2011; Parr, 2005; Petersen et al., 2007; Travaglione & Chang, 2012; Watson, 2010; Whitehouse, 2002). The experiences of women without children in the workplace constitute an example of intersections between pronatalism and other ideologies and discourses, such as neoliberalism. As argued elsewhere, the potential of women without children to conform to the neoliberal stereotype of the ideal worker (a full-time "masculine" worker who is committed and career focused, and has no external responsibilities) may protect women without children from their non-conformance to pronatalism (Turnbull, Graham, & Taket, 2018). Both the positive (employment participation, income, occupational status and career progression) and negative (expectations to work longer hours, and less access to flexible working arrangements) workplace experiences reported by women without children in this and other studies, may relate to managers' and co-workers' perceptions that women without children conform to the ideal worker stereotype, regardless of individual women's unique circumstances and preferences.

3.2.4. Interactions with family and friends

The women highlighted their experiences of not having children within the individual level environment of friends and family. These included family ideas and assumptions around mothering, experiences of the nature of friendships changing, and feeling left out by friends and family due to not having children. The women commented that their family and friends had set ideas, often verbalised, that they should have children. This reinforces the norms and expectations that all women can, will and should become mothers, supporting previous research (Doyle et al., 2013; Turnbull et al., 2016b).
I never have felt accepted by my husband's family. I believe if we had
had children this would have been different. (ID 47, voluntarily
childless, 50)

My parents often say I have no quality of life without children.
Friends who have children some say I am lucky some feel sad. (ID 183,
voluntarily childless, 46)

However, some women felt supported by family and friends, with those closest to them accepting their reproductive choices and circumstances.
My family and friends never make me feel weird about not having
children. They love me and accept my choices. (ID 166, voluntarily
childless, 45)

The women commented that relationships with friends changed, particularly when friends had children. At times this led to friendships ending or the women feeling excluded from friendship groups, given that discussion and activities had moved to centring on children.
Yes, very much when my friends all had babies. Some women completely
excluded me on the basis of my childlessness. (ID 160, circumstantially
childless, 57)

My former best friend (from when we were 12yrs old) recently confessed
to me that she had deliberately broken off contact with me because I
did not have/want children. (ID 229, voluntarily childless, 45)

The exclusion from friendship groups was extended to not being invited to various events, such as friend's children's birthday parties or other functions.
Have missed out on invites to parties and functions with friends
because they were concerned I wouldn't 'fit in' or that I would feel
'uncomfortable' dining with couples who had children. I have felt hurt
and embarrassed on numerous occasions once I found out I had been
deliberately excluded. (ID 189, circumstantially childless, 45)

Last week a lot of my friends were invited to one of their children's
parties, but I was not invited or even told about it. I found out by
accident after it was over, which made me feel very sad to be left out.
Much younger women without children attended, but I was excluded. (ID
44, circumstantially childless, 49)

Congruent with previous research, the current study suggests not having children has implications for many women's social connectedness, networks, and interactions with family and friends (Gillespie, 2000; Park, 2002; Turn-bull et al., 2016a; 2016b; Veevers, 1974). However, some women's friendship groups consisted of mainly women without children. They continued to have positive relationships with these women, who were in similar positions.
Most of my closest friends are single and childless also, so we don't
really talk much about children and children's issues etc. I guess that
is a positive experience :). (ID 205, circumstantially childless, 56)

I guess it depends on where you live and who your friends are, but I
have never felt excluded because I did not have children. Many of my
friends don't have children. I didn't see much of some friends when
their children were young, but that changed as they got older. I like
children, but I do not regret not having children. I couldn't have had
the life I had if I did. (ID 141, voluntarily childless, 63)

The women identified family-focused days or events that could be particularly difficult, such as mother's day. For some this led to feelings of exclusion and not being able to participate in such activities as a result of not having children of their own.
I find it difficult to attend the annual family gathering on mothers'
day now. When I was younger and still hopeful of falling pregnant one
day, it didn't bother me at all being the only female there who wasn't
a mother. Now that the chance of becoming a mother is dwindling to
practically zero I feel I don't belong at the gathering any more. I'm
the odd one out. It's the one day of the year I feel alienated from my
mother and sisters who I love extremely dearly. I hate feeling as
though they are in a club I'm excluded from, and will likely never gain
access to, just because I never happened to fall pregnant. (ID 226,
circumstantially childless, 47)

Women also discussed difficulties forming new friendships. Some felt their ability to make new friends was hampered by not having children, whereas women with children were able to make new friends through mothers' groups or child-focused community and school events.
Most people make friends easily because of contact through their
children. I have never had those opportunities. (ID 12, voluntarily
childless, 58)

Having no children means no mother's group friends, no school related
friends or family sporting club friends. These friendship groups are
often more likely to be local, so I have probably missed out on having
some local friends. (ID 276, voluntarily childless, 54)

As previously discussed in relation to community groups, events and services, many women felt excluded from activities centred on children, leading to the women not participating and potentially forming new social connections.

4. Conclusions

This study has a number of limitations and strengths. Data for this study were collected via an online questionnaire which arguably was more appropriate to the quantitative component of the mixed-methods study. However, this approach facilitated the recruitment of a large sample of women without children, who provided extremely rich qualitative data. The volume and richness of the data facilitated data saturation despite the inability for iterative data collection and analysis, and the lack of participant validation. Data immersion, the use of participant quotations, and situating the findings within existing evidence enhanced the study's rigour. Notwithstanding these limitations, this research is the first to explore the nature of pronatalism-driven connection and exclusion of women with no children in their post-reproductive midlife years, in multiple domains of life in Australian society.

The findings from this study suggest a divide exists between women with children ("us") and women without children ("them"). While some stereotypes and assumptions may be slowly changing, women without children experience this divide as a persistent and pervasive view that all women should and will become mothers, and the use of the attribute of not having children to stigmatise, shame and exclude women at all levels (societal, community, and individual) and in all life domains (social, civic, service and economic). This overarching divide, which functions to include women with children and exclude women without children, is revealed in multiple layers of exclusion in the public and private sphere, including pronatalist policies and political rhetoric; assumptions, judgement and discrimination in workplaces; family and children-centric communities; and stigmatisation and exclusion in interactions with family and friends. The experiences of social exclusion resulting from the "us" and "them" divide may have consequences for the health and wellbeing of women without children. Accordingly, it is essential to break down the barriers that include women with children and exclude women without children, by challenging pronatalist discourses at all levels of society, and offering alternative discourses by which motherhood is irrelevant to womanhood and all women are valued and included for their diverse contributions to friendships, families, workplaces, communities and societies.


We would like to acknowledge the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University who provided the funding for this research.

Author Contributions

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


Ainsworth, S., & Cutcher, L. (2008). "Expectant Mothers and Absent Fathers: Paid Maternity Leave in Australia," Gender, Work & Organization 15(4): 375-393.

Albertini, M., & Mencarini, L. (2014). "Childlessness and Support Networks in Later Life: New Pressures on Familistic Welfare States?," Journal of Family Issues 35(3): 331-357.

Arendall, T. (2000). "Conceiving and Investigating Motherhood: The Decade's Scholarship," Journal of Marriage and the Family 62(4): 1192-1207.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008). "Australian Social Trends 2008: How Many Children Have Women in Australia Had?," Cat. No. 4102.0.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012). "2011 Census Community Profiles: Time Series Profile," Cat. No. 2003.0.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2015). "Household and Family Projections, Australia, 2011 to 2036," Cat. No. 3236.0.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2017). "2016 General Community Profiles," Cat. No. 2001.0.

Bartlett, J. (1995). Will You Be Mother? Women Who Choose to Say No. New York: New York University Press.

Berdahl, J. L., & Moon, S. H. (2013). "Workplace Mistreatment of Middle Class Workers Based on Sex, Parenthood, and Caregiving," Journal of Social Issues 69(2): 341-366.

Berkman, L. F., Glass, T., Brissette, I., & Seeman, T. (2000). "From Social Integration to Health: Durkheim in the New Millennium," Social Science & Medicine 51(6): 843-857.

Bown, K., Sumsion, J., & Press, F. (2011). "Dark Matter: The 'Gravitational Pull' of Maternalist Discourses on Politicians' Decision Making for Early Childhood Policy in Australia," Gender and Education 23(3): 263-280.

Burchardt, T., Le Grand, J., & Piachaud, D. (1999). "Social Exclusion in Britain 1991-1995," Social Policy and Administration 33(3): 227-244.

Butterfield, L. D., Borgen, W. A., Amundson, N. E., & Maglio, A.-S. T. (2005). "Fifty Years of the Critical Incident Technique: 1954-2004 and Beyond," Qualitative Research 5(4): 475-497.

Cacioppo, J., & Hawkley, L. (2003). "Social Isolation and Health, with an Emphasis on Underlying Mechanisms," Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 46(3S): 39-52.

Cannold, L. (2004). "Declining Marriage Rates and Gender Inequity in Social Institutions: Towards an Adequately Complex Explanation for Childlessness," People and Place 12(4): 1-11.

Cannold, L. (2005). What, No Baby? Why Women Are Losing the Freedom to Mother, and How They Can Get It Back. Fremantle: Curtin University Books.

Carey, G., Graham, M., & Shelley, J. (2009). "Discourse, Power and Exclusion: The Experiences of Childless Women," in A. Taket, B. Crisp, A. Nevill, G. Lamaro, M. Graham, & S. Barter-Godfrey (eds.), Theorising Social Exclusion. London: Routledge, 127-133.

Chesterman, C., & Ross-Smith, A. (2010). "Good Executive, Good Mother: Contradictory Devotions," in S. Goodwin & K. Huppatz (eds.), The Good Mother: Contemporary Motherhoods in Australia. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 25-50.

Chou, K.-L., & Chi, I. (2004). "Childlessness and Psychological Well-Being in Chinese Older Adults," International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 19(5): 449-457.

Clarke, L. H., Martin-Matthews, A., & Matthews, R. (2006). "The Continuity and Discontinuity of the Embodied Self in Infertility," Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie 43(1): 95-113.

Coffey, K. (2007). "Selected Factors Related to a Childfree Woman's Decision to Remain Childfree and Her Self-Identified Sexual Orientation," Health Educator 39(1): 10-17.

Cooke, L. (2014). "Gendered Parenthood Penalties and Premiums across the Earnings Distribution in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States," European Sociological Review 30(3): 360-372.

CSDH (2008). Closing the Gap in a Generation: Health Equity through Action on the Social Determinants of Health. Final Report of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2011). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. 4th edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Dever, M. (2005). "Baby Talk: The Howard Government, Families, and the Politics of Difference," Hecate 31(2): 45-61.

Dever, M., & Curtin, J. (2007). "Bent Babies and Closed Borders: Paid Maternity Leave, Ideal Families and the Australian Population Project," Asian Journal of Women's Studies 13(2): 33-62.

Dever, M., & Saugeres, L. (2004). "I Forgot to Have Children! Untangling Links between Feminism, Careers and Voluntary Childlessness," Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering 6(2): 116-126.

Dixon, J., & Dougherty, D. S. (2014). "A Language Convergence/Meaning Divergence Analysis Exploring How LGBTQ and Single Employees Manage Traditional Family Expectations in the Workplace," Journal of Applied Communication Research 42(1): 1-19.

Doyle, J., Pooley, J. A., & Breen, L. (2013). "A Phenomenological Exploration of the Childfree Choice in a Sample of Australian Women," Journal of Health Psychology 18(3): 397-407.

Franklin, S. (1990). "Deconstructing 'Desperateness': The Social Construction of Infertility in Popular Representations of New Reproductive Technologies," in M. McNeil, I. Varcoe, & S. Yearley (eds.), The New Reproductive Technologies. New York: St. Martin's Press, 200-229.

Garrett, C. C., Keogh, L., Hewitt, B., Newton, D. C., & Kavanagh, A. M. (2017). "Young Mothers' Experiences of Receiving the Baby Bonus: A Qualitative Study," Australian Social Work 70(1): 54-65.

Gash, V. (2009). "Sacrificing Their Careers for Their Families? An Analysis of the Penalty to Motherhood in Europe," Social Indicators Research 93(3): 569-586.

Gillespie, R. (2000). "When No Means No: Disbelief, Disregard and Deviance as Discourses of Voluntary Childlessness," Women's Studies International Forum 23(2): 223-234.

Gillespie, R. (2003). "Childfree and Feminine: Understanding the Gender Identity of Childless Women," Gender and Society 17(1): 122-136.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma. Notes on Management of a Spoiled Identity. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Gotlib, A. (2016). "'But You Would Be the Best Mother': Unwomen, Counterstories, and the Motherhood Mandate," Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 13(2): 327-347.

Graham, M. (2015). "Is Being Childless Detrimental to a Woman's Health and Well-Being Across Her Life Course?," Women's Health Issues 25(2): 176-184.

Graham, M., Hill, E., Shelley, J., & Taket, A. (2011). "An Examination of the Health and Wellbeing of Childless Women: A Cross-Sectional Exploratory Study in Victoria, Australia," BMC Women's Health 11: 47.

Graham, M., Hill, E., Shelley, J., & Taket, A. (2013). "Why Are Childless Women Childless? Findings from an Exploratory Study of Childless Women in Victoria, Australia," Journal of Social Inclusion 4(1): 70-89.

Graham, M., & Rich, S. (2012). "What's Childless Got to Do with It?," Alfred Deakin Research Institute, 2(36), 16.

Graham, M., & Rich, S. (2014). "Representations of Childless Women in the Australian Print Media," Feminist Media Studies 14(3): 500-518.

Grundy, E., & Oystein, K. (2010). "Fertility History and Cause-Specific Mortality: A Register-Based Analysis of Complete Cohorts of Norwegian Women and Men," Social Science and Medicine 70(11): 1847-1857.

Grundy, E., & Tomassini, C. (2005). "Fertility History and Health in Later Life: A Record Linkage study in England and Wales," Social Science & Medicine 61(1); 217-228.

Hamilton, E. A., Gordon, J. R., & Whelan-Berry, K. S. (2006). "Understanding the Work--Life Conflict of Never-Married Women without Children," Women in Management Review 21(5): 393-415.

Heard, G. (2006). "Pronatalism under Howard," People and Place 14(3): 12-25.

Heitlinger, A. (1991). "Pronatalism and Women's Equality Policies," European Journal of Population / Revue europeenne de Demographie 7(4): 343-375.

Hird, M. J., & Abshoff, K. (2000). "Women without Children: A Contradiction in Terms?," Journal of Comparative Family Studies 31(3): 347-366.

Kelan, E. K. (2014). "From Biological Clocks to Unspeakable Inequalities: The Intersectional Positioning of Young Professionals," British Journal of Management 25(4): 790-804.

Kirkman, M. (2001). "Thinking of Something to Say: Public and Private Narratives of Infertility," Health Care for Women International 22(6): 523-535.

Koropeckyj-Cox, T. (1998). "Loneliness and Depression in Middle and Old Age: Are Childless More Vulnerable?," Journal of Gerontology 53B(6): S303-311.

Koropeckyj-Cox, T. (2002). "Beyond Parental Status: Psychological Well-Being in Middle and Old Age," Journal of Marriage and Family 64(4): 957-971.

Lampman, C., & Dowling-Guyer, S. (1995). "Attitudes towards Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness," Basic and Applied Social Psychology 17(1/2): 213-222.

Letherby, G. (1994). "Mother or Not, Mother or What? Problems of Definition and Identity," Women's Studies International Forum 17(5): 525-532.

Letherby, G. (1999). "Other than Mother and Mothers as Others: The Experience of Motherhood and Non-Motherhood in Relation to 'Infertility' and 'Involuntary Childlessness'," Women's Studies International Forum 22(3): 359-372.

Letherby, G. (2000). "Images and Representations of Non-Motherhood," Reproductive Health Matters 8(16): 143.

Letherby, G. (2002a). "Challenging Dominant Discourses: Identity and Change and the Experience of 'Infertility' and 'Involuntary Childlessness'," Journal of Gender Studies 11(3): 277-288.

Letherby, G. (2002b). "Childless and Bereft?: Stereotypes and Realities in Relation to 'Voluntary' and 'Involuntary' Childlessness and Womanhood," Sociological Inquiry 72(1): 7-20.

Letherby, G., & Williams, C. (1999). "Non-Motherhood: Ambivalent Autobiographies," Feminist Studies 25(3): 719-728.

Lupton, D., & Schmied, V. (2002). "'The Right Way of Doing It All': First-Time Australian Mothers' Decisions about Paid Employment," Women's Studies International Forum 25(1): 97-107.

Maher, J. M., & Saugeres, L. (2007). "To Be or Not to Be a Mother?: Women Negotiating Cultural Representations of Mothering," Journal of Sociology 43(1): 5-20.

Major, B., & O'Brien, L. T. (2005). "The Social Psychology of Stigma," Annual Review of Psychology 56: 393-421.

Malik, S. H., & Coulson, N. S. (2013). "Coming to Terms with Permanent Involuntary Childlessness: A Phenomenological Analysis of Bulletin Board Postings," Europe's Journal of Psychology 9(1): 77-92.

Marshall, H. (1993). Not Having Children. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, M. P. (2008). "Women's Lived Experience of Infertility after Unsuccessful Medical Intervention," The Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health 53(4): 319-324.

McMunn, A., Bartley, M., & Kuh, D. (2006). "Women's Health in Mid-Life: Life Course Social Roles and Agency as Quality," Social Science & Medicine 63(6): 1561-1572.

McQuillan, J., Greil, A. L., Shreffler, K. M., Wonch-Hill, P. A., Gentzler, K. C., & Hathcoat, J. D. (2012). "Does the Reason Matter? Variations in Childlessness Concerns among U.S. Women," Journal of Marriage and Family 74(5): 1166-1181.

Miall, C. E. (1986). "The Stigma of Involuntary Childlessness," Social Problems 33(4): 268-282.

Miall, C. E. (1994). "Community Constructs of Involuntary Childlessness: Sympathy, Stigma, and Social Support," Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology 31(4): 392-421.

Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Source-book. 2nd edn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Miranti, R., McNamara, J., Tanton, R., & Yap, M. (2009). "A Narrowing Gap? Trends in the Childlessness of Professional Women in Australia 1986-2006," Journal of Population Research 26(4): 359-379.

Misra, J., Budig, M., & Boeckmann, I. (2011). "Cross-National Patterns in Individual and Household Employment and Work Hours by Gender and Parenthood," in D. Brady (ed.), Comparing European Workers Part A: Research in the Sociology of Work 22(1). Bingley: Emerald, 169-207.

Mollen, D. (2006). "Voluntarily Childfree Women: Experiences and Counseling Considerations," Journal of Mental Health Counseling 28(3): 269-284.

Morell, C. (1994). Unwomanly Conduct: The Challenges of Intentional Childlessness. New York: Routledge.

Mueller, K., & Yoder, J. (1997). "Gendered Norms for Family Size, Employment, and Occupation: Are There Personal Costs for Violating Them?," Sex Roles 36(3/4): 207-220.

Mueller, K., & Yoder, J. (1999). "Stigmatization of Non-Normative Family Size Status," Sex Roles 41(11/12): 901-919.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Collins, K. M. (2007). "A Typology of Mixed Methods Sampling Designs in Social Science Research," The Qualitative Report 12(2): 281-316.

Park, K. (2002). "Stigma Management among the Voluntary Childless," Sociological Perspectives 45(1): 21-45.

Park, K. (2005). "Choosing Childlessness: Weber's Typology of Action and Motives of the Voluntary Childless," Sociological Inquiry 75(3): 372-402.

Parr, N. (2005). "Family Background, Schooling and Childlessness in Australia," Journal of Biosocial Science 37(2): 229-243.

Parris, M., & Vickers, M. (2010). "'Look at Him... He's Failing': Male Executives' Experiences of Redundancy," Employee Responsibilities & Rights Journal 22(4): 345-357.

Petersen, T., Penner, A., & Hogsnes, G. (2007). From Motherhood Penalties to Fatherhood Premia: The New Challenge for Family Policy. Berkeley, CA: Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Peterson, H., & Engwall, K. (2016). "Missing Out on the Parenthood Bonus? Voluntarily Childless in a 'Child-Friendly' Society," Journal of Family & Economic Issues 37(4): 540-552.

Pfeffer, N., & Woollett, A. (1983). The Experience of Infertility. London: Virago Press.

Rawlings, L., Robson, S. J., & Ding, P. (2016). "Socioeconomic Response by Age Group to the Australian Baby Bonus: A Multivariate Analysis of Birth Data from 2001-13," Australian Journal of Labour Economics 19(2): 111-129.

Rich, S., Taket, A., Graham, M., & Shelley, J. (2011). "'Unnatural', 'Unwomanly', 'Uncreditable' and 'Undervalued': The Significance of Being a Childless Woman in Australian Society," Gender Issues 28(4): 226-247.

Riessman, C. K. (2000). "Stigma and Everyday Resistance Practices," Gender & Society 14(1): 111-135.

Sawer, M. (2013). "Misogyny and Misrepresentation: Women in Australian Parliaments," Political Science 65(1): 105-117.

Seccombe, K. (1991). "Assessing the Costs and Benefits of Children: Gender Comparisons among Childfree Husbands and Wives," Journal of Marriage and the Family 53(1): 191-202.

Shapiro, G. (2014). "Voluntary Childlessness: A Critical Review of the Literature," Studies in the Maternal 6(1): 1-15.

Silver, H. (2007). "The Process of Social Exclusion: The Dynamics of an Evolving Concept," CPRC WP 95.

Skinner, N., & Pocock, B. (2011). "Flexibility and Work--Life Interference in Australia," Journal of Industrial Relations 53(1): 65-82.

Swanberg, J. E., Pitt-Catsouphes, M., & Drescher-Burke, K. (2005). "A Question of Justice: Disparities in Employees' Access to Flexible Schedule Arrangements," Journal of Family Issues 26(6): 866-895.

Taket, A., Crisp, B., Nevill, A., Lamaro, G., Graham, M., & Barter-Godfrey, S. (2009). Theorising Social Exclusion. London: Routledge.

Tamakoshi, A., Tamakoshi, K., Lin, Y., Mikami, H., Inaba, Y., Yagyu, K., Kikuchi, S., & JACC Study Group. (2010). "Number of Children and All-Cause Mortality Risk: Results from the Japan Collaborative Cohort Study," European Journal of Public Health 21(6): 732-737.

Tietjens-Meyers, D. (2001). "The Rush to Motherhood--Pronatalist Discourse and Women's Autonomy," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society 26(3): 735-773.

Todorova, I. L. G., & Kotzeva, T. (2003). "Social Discourses, Women's Resistive Voices: Facing Involuntary Childlessness in Bulgaria," Women's Studies International Forum 26(2): 139-151.

Travaglione, A., & Chang, J. (2012). "A Demographic Analysis of Breadwinner and Domestic Childcare Roles in Australia's Employment Structure," Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work 22(4): 361-378.

Turnbull, B., Graham, M., & Taket, A. (2016a). "The Nature and Extent of Social Exclusion of Australian Childless Women in Their Reproductive Years: An Exploratory Mixed-Methods Study," Social Inclusion 4(1): 102-115.

Turnbull, B., Graham, M., & Taket, A. (2016b). "Social Connection and Exclusion of Australian Women with No Children during Midlife," Journal of Social Inclusion 7(2): 65-85.

Turnbull, B., Graham, M., & Taket, A. (2017). "Pronatalism and Social Exclusion in Australian Society: Experiences of Women in Their Reproductive Years with No Children," Gender Issues 34(4): 333-354.

Turnbull, B., Graham, M., & Taket, A. (2018). "Understanding the Employment Experiences of Women with No Children," in N. Sappleton (ed.), Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness: The Joys of Otherhood? Bingley: Emerald, 261-281.

Van Selm, M., & Jankowski, N. W. (2006). "Conducting Online Surveys," Quality & Quantity 40(3): 435-456.

Veevers, J. (1980). Childless By Choice. Toronto: Butterworths.

Veevers, J. E. (1974). "Voluntary Childlessness and Social Policy: An Alternative View," The Family Coordinator 23(4): 397-406.

Watson, I. (2010). "Decomposing the Gender Pay Gap in the Australian Managerial Labour Market," Australian Journal of Labour Economics 13(1): 49-79.

Weir, R., Day, P., & Ali, W. (2007). Risk Factors for Breast Cancer in Women. New Zealand Health Technology Assessment (NZHTA) Report, 10(2).

Whiteford, L. M., & Gonzalez, L. (1995). "Stigma: The Hidden Burden of Infertility," Social Science & Medicine 40(1): 27-36.

Whitehouse, G. (2002). "Parenthood and Pay in Australia and the UK: Evidence from Workplace Surveys," Journal of Sociology 38(4): 381-397.

Wilkinson, R., & Marmot, M. (2003). Social Determinants of Health: The Solid Facts. Geneva: WHO.

Woollett, A. (1991). "Having Children: Accounts of Childless Women and Women with Reproductive Problems," in A. Phoenix, A. Woollett, & E. Lloyd (eds.), Motherhood: Meanings, Practices and Ideologies. London: Sage, 47-65.

Wu, Z., & Hart, R. (2002). "The Mental Health of the Childless Elderly," Sociological Inquiry 71(1): 21-42.

Melissa Graham

School of Psychology and Public Health, Department of Public Health, La Trobe University, Australia (corresponding author)

Hayley McKenzie

Centre for Health through Action on Social Exclusion (CHASE), School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Australia

Beth Turnbull

Centre for Health through Action on Social Exclusion (CHASE), School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Australia

Ann Taket

Centre for Health through Action on Social Exclusion (CHASE), School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University, Australia

How to cite: Graham, Melissa, Hayley McKenzie, Beth Turnbull, and Ann Taket (2019). "'Them and Us': The Experience of Social Exclusion among Women without Children in Their Post-Reproductive Years," Journal of Research in Gender Studies 9(1): 71-104. doi:10.22381/JRGS9120193

Received 8 June 2018 * Received in revised form 21 September 2018

Accepted 23 September 2018 * Available online 15 October 2018
Table 1 Socio-demographic characteristic of the women (n = 245)

                                  Number    Percent

45-49                              90       36.7
50-54                              82       33.5
55-59                              54       22.0
60-64                              19        7.8
Partner status
Single                             86       35.1
Partnered                         159       64.9
Area of residence (n = 244)
Major city                        152       62.3
Regional /Remote                   92       37.7
Employment status
Unemployed                         27       11.0
Not in labour force                17        6.9
Underemployed                      26       10.6
Employed/Self-employed            175       71.4
Educational attainment
Year 11 or below                   17        6.9
Year 12 or equivalent               7        2.9
Certificate/Diploma                37       15.1
Bachelor                           57       23.3
Postgraduate                      127       51.8
Type of childlessness (n = 242)
Involuntary                        22        9.1
Circumstantial                     89       36.8
Voluntary                         124       51.2
Other                               7        2.9
COPYRIGHT 2019 Addleton Academic Publishers
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Graham, Melissa; McKenzie, Hayley; Turnbull, Beth; Taket, Ann
Publication:Journal of Research in Gender Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2019
Previous Article:The Gendered Nature of Employment and Insecure Employment in Northern Ireland: A Story of Continuity and Change.
Next Article:Female Sexuality and Liberation of the Body in Contemporary Moroccan Literature: The Case of The Almond by Nedjma.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters