On St. Patrick’s Day, the saying goes, everyone is Irish. As Americans, what comes to mind when we think of Irish life? Green fertile countrysides? A pint of dark ale? Catholicism? What about Irish women without children? Go deeper. What about Irish women who choose not to have children?
In January 2014, the Irish Independent published the results of one woman’s search to “meet the women in Ireland who have made the conscious choice not to have children.” Orla Barry took on the task to help understand her own lack of “maternal urgings” and how other women made the decision. Just one problem: very few childfree women wanted to speak on the record.
She writes that discussions about childfree choices are happening in many places, but not in Ireland: “Here, a woman’s role remains that of working mother or full-time mother. Those who choose neither are on the fringes.”
Niamh Hourigan, Ph.D., a sociologist at University College Cork, part of the National University of Ireland, offered an explanation: “We live in a more pro-natal country than anywhere else in the European Union (EU) and I imagine that increases the fear women have about saying out loud they don’t want to have a baby.” Recent stats (2011) show Ireland with the highest fertility rate in the EU, an average of 2 births per woman.
A further complication, according to Dr. Hourigan, is the reality of abortion and its connection to choice. Ireland enacted a controversial law allowing abortion in some circumstances at the start of 2014.
“When women talk about not having children, there’s a fear they will be drawn back into this debate on abortion. They chose not to have a child,” Dr. Hourigan said.
In 2012, The Atlantic revealed that the gender wage gap in Ireland is the highest in the world, with women – childless women – leading the way. Clearly, Ireland’s conversation about its NotMoms has just begun.