Stigma and ‘Moral Outrage’ Toward Voluntarily Childless People

Couple walking down the streetStudents participating in a study published in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research expressed “moral outrage” toward those who choose to forgo or delay having children.

The birth rate in the United States has plummeted. According to 2015 data from the Urban Institute, the birth rate among women in their twenties dropped more than 15% from 2007-2012. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the fertility rate dropped to its lowest point ever in 2016.

Understanding Shock and Outrage Against Non-Parents

The study used feedback from 197 undergraduate students. Researchers randomly assigned students to one of two tasks. One task asked students to evaluate a male or female married person with two children. In the second task, students evaluated a male or female person with no children. In both scenarios, child-rearing was presented as a choice.

Participants offered assessments of the hypothetical person’s sense of fulfillment and provided feedback on their own emotions toward the person. The students viewed people who were childless by choice as significantly less fulfilled than people with children.

They were also more likely to express “moral outrage”—including anger, disgust, and disapproval—toward the childless, regardless of gender. Feelings of moral outrage predicted assessments of fulfillment. Students who expressed more moral outrage were more likely to view childless people as unfulfilled.

The study highlights previous research linking feelings of moral outrage to discrimination and mistreatment.

Childlessness and Mental Health

Despite modern society’s shift away from childbearing, many childless people face stigma. Whether experiencing infertility or child-free by choice, people without children often experience pressure to have children or judgment of their decision. The study points toward childbearing as a moral imperative, potentially explaining the stigma of childlessness.

A 2014 study found few differences in happiness between parents and childless people when researchers adjusted for other predictors of well-being, such as income and health.


  1. Ashburn-Nardo, L. (2016). Parenthood as a moral imperative? Moral outrage and the stigmatization of voluntarily childfree women and men. Sex Roles, 76(5-6), 393-401. doi:10.1007/s11199-016-0606-1
  2. Astone, N. M., Martin, S., & Peters, H. E. (2015). Millennial childbearing and the recession[PDF]. Urban Institute.
  3. Deaton, A., & Stone, A. A. (2014). Evaluative and hedonic wellbeing among those with and without children at home. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(4), 1328-1333. doi:10.1073/pnas.1311600111
  4. Park, M. (2016, August 11). US fertility rate falls to lowest on record. Retrieved from

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  • Graham


    March 22nd, 2017 at 11:12 AM

    I have several really good friends who by choice don’t have children and I am ok with that. Why should I be outraged just because they didn’t make the same choices that I made about having a family? We all made different choices about where to go to school and what career to choose so why does it matter to me if they have children?
    I applaud those people who know that they don’t want to have any kids and who then do what has t be done to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Just because I want one thing in life does not mean that this is the answer for everyone.

  • Darcy


    March 27th, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    It isn’t any of my business if people want to have children or not. That is their choice just as I made mine, they should be allowed to make their own.

    Now with that being said I always knew that having a child would fulfill me and the thought of not having one would have made me terribly sad. But again, my choice, my decision, my business.

  • Sue


    March 30th, 2017 at 12:53 PM

    This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Do the child encumbered want to drag everyone down to their selfish level? In the current world situation, having children at all seems to be foolish and selfish and it’s even world to have more than one or two. The world is overpopulated and global climate change is real. Demagogues and dictators abound. It’s not a time bring children into a life that could become hideous and unbearable. Ridiculous!

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