Sociology, Department of


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A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Sociology, Under the Supervision of Professor Julia McQuillan. Lincoln, Nebraska: April 2011

Copyright 2011 Kari C. Gentzler


The proportion of adult women without children in the United States has increased in recent years and there are multiple reasons women do not have children. Past research concerning the well-being of women relative to their motherhood status does not recognize the great diversity among women without children. I attempt to fill that gap by classifying women based on the presence or absence of children, fertility barriers, and childbearing intentions. The classification results in five motherhood situations: mothers, voluntarily childfree, women delaying motherhood, involuntarily childless with situational barriers and involuntarily childless with biomedical barriers. This study specifies the relationship between women’s life satisfaction and motherhood situation using data from the first wave of the National Survey of Fertility Barriers (N=4,712). I draw on identity theory and life course theory to compare the life satisfaction of women with and without children to see if the status (not having children) is more important than the process (the reason women have no children). I also test the moderating effects of importance of motherhood, age, and marital status. Findings show that women who delay motherhood and childless women with situational barriers are different from women who choose to be childfree or women who have biomedical barriers. Therefore it is important not only to compare mothers to non-mothers, but also to explore the reasons why women do not have children when examining differences in life satisfaction.

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