Double standards: Differences in norms on voluntary childlessness for men and women

A.J. Rijken, E.M. Merz

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We examined double standards in norms concerning voluntary childlessness. Whether the choice to remain childless is more accepted for men or women is not a priori clear; we formulated hypotheses in both directions. Parenthood might be considered as more central to women's identity than to men's, resulting in higher disapproval of childlessness for women. Yet, as the costs of parenthood are higher for women, people might also be more accepting of their choice to remain childless and disapprove more of childless men. Multilevel analyses were conducted, including individual and societal-level variables. Our sample consisted of N=44,055 individuals nested in 25 European countries, obtained from the third round of the European Social Survey (2006). Subjective norms regarding voluntary childlessness were measured with a split-ballot design: half of the respondents were randomly assigned items regarding women choosing childlessness, and the other half was assigned items regarding men. Findings indicated that men were more disapproved of when choosing not to have children than women. Generally, this double standard was endorsed by women, not by men. Clear cross-national variation in the double standard existed, which was partly explained by the level of gender equality. We found that higher levels of gender equality were associated with larger double standards favouring women. © The Author 2014.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)470-482
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Sociological Review
Issue number4
Early online date26 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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