Choosing to have children or choosing to be childfree: Australian students' attitudes towards the decisions of heterosexual and lesbian women


School of Psychology, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, 4072,


Research has demonstrated that voluntarily childless heterosexual women, and lesbian women choosing to become mothers, are negatively stereotyped. However, there is little recent Australian research, and attitudes may have changed in line with changing family formation patterns. This study assessed young Australians' attitudes towards either a lesbian or a heterosexual woman who was planning, or not planning, to have children. One hundred and nineteen first year psychology students, and members of the general public, participated. The majority of participants were under 20, female, European Australian and single. Participants read a brief description of a woman who was variously described as having a male or a female partner, and as planning or not planning to have children. As expected, participants rated the heterosexual woman more favourably than the lesbian, and the woman wanting children more positively than the woman not wanting children. However, there was a trend for the lesbian woman planning to have children to be rated as happier, more mature and more individualistic than others. The legal and social implications associated with wanting to be a lesbian mother in Australia make motherhood a more difficult process for lesbian women than it does for heterosexual women, and may explain why lesbian women who have decided to take this difficult path are seen as happier and more mature, than women making more conventional life choices. While the predominantly young, female student sample limits the generality of the findings, they suggest that social attitudes towards female sexual orientation and women's childbirth decisions are changing.