Since University of Maine sociology professor Amy Blackstone began researching people who choose not to have children — as she and her husband, Lance, have chosen — she’s heard just about every type of criticism or belief regarding whether or not to procreate.
That child-free people are selfish and shallow. That they will regret their decision when they are old. That women have a natural maternal instinct that cannot be suppressed. That parental love is a rarefied experience to which nothing else could possibly compare.
“Society has always assumed that all women innately want to have children,” said Blackstone. “That’s simply not true. And if it’s selfish, well, if choosing not to do something because you don’t want to is selfish, then many, many things are selfish.”
Blackstone, a Bangor resident, has spent the past decade on a mission to bust most of those myths. In her new book, “Childfree By Choice: The Movement Redefining Family & Creating a New Age of Independence,” published this month by Penguin Random House, she puts her findings to paper.
It’s a book that’s equal parts rigorous academic research and memoir, with often-humorous personal anecdotes interlaced with information gleaned from Blackstone’s more than 10 years of study.
According to the Pew Research Center, the share of child-free women aged 40 to 44 doubled between 1976 and 2006, to an all-time high of about 20 percent. Today, the share hovers somewhere between 15 and 16 percent, a slight decrease researchers attribute to improved fertility treatments and better family leave policies.
Aside from raw numbers, however, there was little other research to look at when Blackstone began studying child-free people.
“I found that there was very little research that had been done, anywhere,” Blackstone said. “Despite the fact that there have always been people that have chosen not to have children. And as it turns out, it’s a choice more and more women are making today.”
Blackstone, now 47, grew up assuming she’d eventually get pregnant and have children — she babysat in her church’s nursery, and she later worked as a nanny. But by the time she hit her thirties, she realized that both she and her husband had never gotten around to seriously considering actually doing it.