Barren in the Promised Land: Childless Americans and the Pursuit of Happiness

Elaine Tyler May, Author
Elaine Tyler May, Author Basic Books $24 (318p) ISBN 978-0-465-00609-0
Reviewed on: 05/29/1995
Release date: 06/01/1995
Paperback - 978-0-465-00608-3
Paperback - 318 pages - 978-0-674-06182-8
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``Do we want children?'' This major question has only recently been asked in our society. As May, professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, points out in this well-thought-out analysis, childbearing was an economic necessity until this century. After WWII, the family became the center of social status and stability. ``Procreation shifted from a matter of survival and necessity to a source of expansion, national identity, and personal happiness.'' In the domestic ecstasy of the '50s, those without were considered at best handicapped, at worst deviant. And now the pendulum swings back. In the '70s, the concept of ``childfree'' emerged, preferred over the term``childless'' because the latter ``implies that one's natural state is to have children.'' May cites Ellen Peck (The Baby Trap), who claims, ``The men I meet who don't have children talk about their wives. The men who have kids ask me out.'' May takes readers through the shifts in opinion over the centuries, from barren women being perceived as witches to childfree women being accused of hedonism and self-indulgence; from pregnancy as a life-threatening state to designer genes and contemporary couples unwilling to accept the prospect of no children. She doesn't take sides but places the available information at the disposal of her readers. Photos. (June)
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