chapter  2
7 Pages

10 Discourse, power and exclusion: The experiences of childless women

ByGEMMA E. CAREY, MELISSA GRAHAM, JULIA SHELLEY, ANN TAKET

While determining the rates of, and reasons for, childlessness is difficult, we know that a general upward trend exists in the number of women who do not mother children in Western countries (Campbell 1985; Seccombe 1991; Ireland 1993; Morell 1994; Bartlett 1996; McAllister and Clark 1998; Gillespie 2001, 2003). Currently, approximately 20 per cent of women fall into this category, whilst historically 10 per cent have represented the norm (Park 2002). This increase relates to an increase in infertility (as a result of delayed parenting, and other factors), but also to an increase in the number of women choosing not to have children, or the voluntarily childless (Seccombe 1991). Current research into the area of voluntary childlessness suggests that significant social exclusion and social connectedness issues may exist for such women. To date, the conceptual tool of social exclusion has not been applied to

the experiences of childless women. By analysing childlessness from a social exclusion perspective, in this chapter we begin to address an important knowledge gap by advancing two areas of thought. First, we provide a new perspective on an emerging social trend; and second, we advance social exclusion theorising by demonstrating that it can be divorced from the economic dimensions of disadvantage with which it is most commonly used. We begin by discussing current literature on childless women which depicts considerable stigma and discrimination issues. Using multiple theoretical perspectives we then attempt to better conceptualise the underlying processes which lead to these negative social experiences. To achieve this we draw on the concepts of discourse, power and social exclusion.