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From Deviant Choice to Feminist Issue: An Historical Analysis of Scholarship on Voluntary Childlessness (1920–2013)

Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness

ISBN: 978-1-78754-362-1, eISBN: 978-1-78754-361-4

Publication date: 23 August 2018


Existing reviews of research on voluntary childlessness generally take the form of narrative summaries, focusing on main topics investigated over time. In this chapter, the authors extend previous literature reviews to conduct a systematic review and content analysis of socio-historical and geopolitical aspects of knowledge production about voluntary childlessness. The dataset comprised 195 peer-reviewed articles that were coded and analysed to explore, inter alia: the main topic under investigation; country location of authors; sample characteristics; theoretical framework and methodology. The findings are discussed in relation to the socio-historical contexts of knowledge production, drawing on theoretical insights concerned with the politics of location, representation and research practice. The shifts in the topics of research from the 1970s, when substantial research first emerged, uphold the view of voluntary childlessness as non-normative. With some regional variation, knowledge is dominated by quantitative, hard science methodologies and mostly generated about privileged, married women living in the global North. The implications of this for future research concerned with reproductive freedom are outlined.




The authors gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and National Research Foundation (NRF) of South Africa, obtained through the South African Research Chairs Initiative and the Centre of Excellence in Human Development.


Lynch, I., Morison, T., Macleod, C.I., Mijas, M., du Toit, R. and Seemanthini, S. (2018), "From Deviant Choice to Feminist Issue: An Historical Analysis of Scholarship on Voluntary Childlessness (1920–2013)", Sappleton, N. (Ed.) Voluntary and Involuntary Childlessness (Emerald Studies in Reproduction, Culture and Society), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 11-47.



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