WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — An increasing number of American women are exiting their childbearing years without any kids – and many live a more distress-free life than their parenting counterparts.

According to a study and a new book entitled, “Why Have Kids: A New Mom Explores The Truth About Parenting and Happiness,” the importance of motherhood is put up for debate.

“Motherhood is so highly connected with adult femininity in the United States that many women feel that they need to be mothers,” study author Julia McQuillan, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln sociologist, said in a statement to Fox News. “Yet we also found that there are women who have low or no distress about not being mothers, even if their friends and family want them to have children.”

A life without offspring is becoming the reality for more U.S. women, with estimates suggesting that about 20 percent of American women exit their childbearing years without reproducing, according to 2003 data.

Comparatively, 10 percent of women did the same in 1976. Reasons include deliberate choice, infertility, financial concerns, educational and job demands or the lack of the right partner.

McQuillan and her colleagues queried a national sample of nearly 1,200 American women without children about their reasons as well as their experiences. They found that reasons for being childfree were tied with the importance women put on becoming mothers, which in turn was linked with distress over not having kids. Women who had medical reasons for not reproducing put more importance on having kids than other women in the study, and were the most distressed.

Pressure from friends, family and society to have kids caused distress only when women themselves considered motherhood important.

The study also found that more religious women actually felt less pressured by social messages to have children compared with less religious women, according to Fox News. Childfree-by-choice women had the highest family income of all the women in the study, while women with medical barriers to fertility had the lowest.

“This highlights that not all women without children are the same,” McQuillan told Fox. “While some may be devastated, others are content and finding fulfillment through other avenues such as leisure or career pursuits. Rather than assume that women without children are missing something, society should benefit from valuing a variety of paths for adult women to have satisfying lives.”


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