Skip to main content
Intended for healthcare professionals
Restricted access
Research article
First published online December 8, 2016

Remaking Our Identities: Couples’ Experiences of Voluntary Childlessness


Previous qualitative research findings have discussed motivations, decision-making, stigma, and resistance to pronatalism among voluntarily childless (VC) men and women. The current study placed such elements of the lifeworlds of VC individuals and dyads within the context of a life story of (re)making of the VC identity. Twelve life history and semistructured interviews with six VC men and women in three heterosexual couples in Canada were analyzed using thematic analysis. The VC choice was expressed as a decision to accept one’s essential voluntary childlessness. The construction of the VC participants’ bodies through their stories entailed episodes of conflict and resistance central to gendered experiences. We propose that this pattern of themes, in a pronatalist sociocultural context, points to a remaking of the figure of an extraordinary person from childhood, through to their current partnership, and into the future. These findings have implications for practitioners working with VC couples as they construct their identities, partnerships, reproductive decisions, life trajectories, and life projects.

Get full access to this article

View all access and purchase options for this article.


Agrillo C., Nelini C. (2008). Childfree by choice: A review. Journal of Cultural Geography, 25, 347–363. doi:10.1080/08873630802476292
Becker G. (1997). Disrupted lives: How people create meaning in a chaotic world. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Braun V., Clarke V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 77–101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa
Bruner E. M. (1986). Experience and its expressions. In Turner V. W., Bruner E. M. (Eds.), The anthropology of experience (pp. 3–30). Urbana, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Carmichael G. A., Whittaker A. (2007). Choice and circumstance: Qualitative insights into contemporary childlessness in Australia. European Journal of Population, 23, 111–143. doi:10.1007/s10680-006-9112-4
Crotty M. (1998). The foundations of social research: Meaning and perspective in the research process. London, England: Sage.
Doyle J., Pooley J. A., Breen L. (2012). A phenomenological exploration of the childfree choice in a sample of Australian women. Journal of Health Psychology, 18, 397–407. doi:10.1177/1359105312444647
Durham W. T. (2008). The rules-based process of revealing/concealing the family planning decisions of voluntarily child-free couples: A communication privacy management perspective. Communication Studies, 59, 132–147. doi:10.1080/10510970802062451
Durham W., Braithwaite D. O. (2009). Communication privacy management within the family planning trajectories of voluntarily child-free couples. Journal of Family Communication, 9, 43–65. doi:10.1080/15267430802561600
Edmonston B., Lee S. M., Wu A. (2010). Fertility intentions in Canada: Change or no change? Canadian Studies in Population, 37, 297–337.
Frank A. W. (2010). Letting stories breathe: A socio-narratology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Gadamer H. G. (1988). On the circle of understanding. In Connolly J. M., Keutner T. (Eds. & Trans.), Hermeneutics versus science? Three German views (pp. 68–78). Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. (Original work published 1959)
Geertz C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Gillespie R. (2003). Childfree and feminine: Understanding the gender identity of voluntarily childless women. Gender and Society, 17, 122–136. doi:10.1177/0891243202238982
Gold J. M., Wilson J. S. (2002). Legitimizing the child-free family: The role of the family counsellor. The Family Journal, 10, 70–74. doi:10.1177/1066480702101011
Good B. J. (1994). Medicine, rationality, and experience: An anthropological perspective. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.
Goodman N. (1978). Words, works, worlds. In Goodman N. (Ed.), Ways of worldmaking (pp. 1–22). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett.
Hird M. J., Abshoff K. (2000). Women without children: A contradiction in terms? Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 31, 347–366.
Lee K., Zvonkovic A. M. (2014). Journeys to remain childless: A grounded theory examination of decision-making processes among voluntarily childless couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31, 535–553. doi:10.1177/0265407514522891
Lunneborg P. W. (1999). The chosen lives of childfree men. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey
Mollen D. (2006). Voluntarily childfree women: Experiences and counselling considerations. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 28, 269–284,
Park K. (2002). Stigma management among the voluntarily childless. Sociological Perspectives, 45, 21–45.
Park K. (2005). Choosing childlessness: Weber’s typology of action and motives of the voluntarily childless. Sociological Inquiry, 75, 372–402.
Pelton S. L., Hertlein K. M. (2011). A proposed life cycle for voluntary childfree couples. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 23, 39–53. doi:10.1080/08952833.2011.548703
Peterson H. (2014). Fifty shades of freedom. Voluntary childlessness as women’s ultimate liberation. Women’s Studies International forum. doi:10.1016/j.wsif.2014.10.017
Peterson H., Engwall K. (2013). Silent bodies: Childfree women’s gendered and embodied experiences. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 20, 376–389. doi:10.1177/135050681247138.
Ravanera Z. R., Beaujot R. (2014). Childlessness of men in Canada: Result of a waiting game in a changing family context. Canadian Studies in Population, 41, 38–60.
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, 226–274. doi:10.1007/s12147-011-9108-1
Ricoeur P. (1992). Oneself as another (Blamey K., Trans.). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Rothe J. P. (2000). Undertaking qualitative research: Concepts and cases in injury, health, and social life. Edmonton, AB: University of Alberta Press.
Saldana J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2nd ed.). London, England: Sage.
Shaw R. L. (2011). Women’s experiential journey toward voluntary childlessness: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 21, 151–163. doi:10.1002/casp.1072
Solnit R. (2015, 10). The mother of all questions. Harper’s Magazine, 331(1985), 5–7.
Stobert S., Kemeny A. (2003). Childfree by choice. Canadian Social Trends, Summer 2003, 7–10. Statistics Canada Catalogue No. 11-008.
Terry G., Braun V. (2012). Sticking my finger up at evolution: Unconventionality, selfishness, and choice in the talk of men who have had “preemptive” vasectomies. Men and Masculinities, 15, 207–229. doi:10.1177/1097184X11430126
Veevers J. E. (1980). Childless by choice. Toronto, ON: Butterworths.

Cite article

Cite article

Cite article


Download to reference manager

If you have citation software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice

Share options


Share this article

Share with email

Share access to this article

Sharing links are not relevant where the article is open access and not available if you do not have a subscription.

For more information view the Sage Journals article sharing page.

Information, rights and permissions


Published In

Article first published online: December 8, 2016
Issue published: January 2017


  1. voluntary childlessness
  2. reproductive decision-making
  3. couples
  4. identity
  5. family

Rights and permissions

© The Author(s) 2016.
Request permissions for this article.


Published online: December 8, 2016
Issue published: January 2017



Elise J. Matthews
Faculty of Nursing, University of Regina, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Michel Desjardins
Department of Psychology, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada


Elise J. Matthews, Faculty of Nursing, University of Regina, 111-116 Research Drive, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada S7N3R3. Email: [email protected]

Metrics and citations


Journals metrics

This article was published in The Family Journal.


Article usage*

Total views and downloads: 2785

*Article usage tracking started in December 2016

Articles citing this one

Web of Science: 5 view articles Opens in new tab

Crossref: 9

  1. Sterilized and Satisfied: Outcomes of Childfree Sterilization Obtainme...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  2. Cognitive Transition to Parenthood
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  3. ‘I try to be true to myself but other people have to fit you into a bo...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  4. Bibliography
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  5. The Fixed Childfree Subjectivity: Performing Meta-Facework about Steri...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  6. Childfreedom and Responsibility: An Existential‐Feminist Framework for...
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  7. Childless
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  8. Collapsing Space: Reply to Gentile and Grill
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar
  9. Childfree by Choice
    Go to citation Crossref Google Scholar

Figures and tables

Figures & Media


View Options

Get access

Access options

If you have access to journal content via a personal subscription, university, library, employer or society, select from the options below:

IAMFC members can access this journal content using society membership credentials.

IAMFC members can access this journal content using society membership credentials.

Alternatively, view purchase options below:

Purchase 24 hour online access to view and download content.

Access journal content via a DeepDyve subscription or find out more about this option.

View options


View PDF/ePub

Full Text

View Full Text