Alyssa Favreau called me last week for an interview for her university paper, The McGill Daily. She wanted to explore how our definitions of family have expanded over time. In her article titled The Ties That Bind she cited a study by Indiana University sociologist Brian Powell in which Americans were asked what they considered to be a family. Favreau noted:
In Powell’s research, the presence of children had a legitimizing effect on how a couple was viewed. In the 2010 survey, 100 per cent of respondents considered a married heterosexual couple with children to be a family, while 83 per cent considered an unmarried heterosexual with kids to be a family, and 64 per cent considered a same-sex couple with kids to be a family. Remove the children, and the percentages dropped down to 92, 40 and 33 per cent respectively.
Laura Scott, head of the Childless by Choice Project advocacy group and author of Two is Enough: A Couple’s Guide to Living Childless by Choice, said that these findings are representative of how couples living without children are often excluded from the general definition of family. “The perception is that they’re just a couple, not really a family,” she explained. “There’s an attitude that if you’re a [child-free] couple, it must be temporary; eventually you’ll have children.”
This perspective, Scott said, often leads to a social marginalization of couples who are childless either by circumstance or by choice. “As a childless person you become socially isolated,” she said. “Childlessness is approaching 20 percent in women, and that’s huge. We can no longer assume parenthood for all...we need to assimilate those [child-free] couples into our society and recognize that it’s a viable life path.”
Though I do not describe the Childless by Choice Project as an advocacy group, nor do I advocate remaining childfree, I do advocate expanding our definition of family to include functioning, committed, and supportive family units of two or more regardless of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or the number of offspring produced or adopted.
Are you childless by choice or circumstance? If so, what does your family unit look like?