Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Lissa Weinstein

Committee Members

Steven Tuber

Diana Punales Morejon

Elliot Jurist

Hilary Levine

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Developmental Psychology | Personality and Social Contexts | Psychological Phenomena and Processes | Theory and Philosophy


voluntary childlessness, child freedom, non-mothering, non-parenting, psychoanalysis, female psychology


Although motherhood has long been a normative female experience, individual decisions regarding bearing and mothering children vary among women. Partly due to shifts in gender roles and contemporary societal expectations, the conflation of womanhood with motherhood – and the centrality of motherhood within female identity – is being increasingly challenged. Women who choose to remain childless make up a growing, unique, and understudied population group. Decisions regarding intentional childlessness have been considered through the lenses of sociology and feminist critique, while psychologically and psychoanalytically oriented scholarship is more limited. This study aimed to further our understanding of the voluntarily childless population by conducting a deep and meaningful exportation of the conscious and unconscious motivations and developmental experiences of these women.

A sample of 10 women was interviewed using a semi-structured interview that addresses psychologically and psychoanalytically informed themes to identify significant experiences to learn how their decision not to have children has become organized and integrated. Unconscious motives were explored by considering aspects of fantasy, identity, and personality across several dimensions of hypothesized significance (femininity, sexuality, play and attachment relationships) and across developmental phases. Qualitative thematic analysis indicated that this group of women has a broad range of experiences that were linked at various degrees to their conscious decisions not to have children. The findings indicate that, although not inherently pathological or conflictual, the choice not to have children is a central and consequential aspect of identity. Selfhood, and the integrity of the self in particular, emerged as a prominent theme. These findings have implications for both societal and clinical understanding of women who fall into this category and enrich our understanding of the diversity therein.

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