This originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Republished here with permission.
When a woman is over age 30, single, and childless, people want to know why. Not just her doting parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Not just the college roommate whose bridal and baby showers she threw 10 or 15 years earlier. Not just her married mom friends chiding her to get on the bandwagon. Not just her co-workers. Not just the nosy neighbor down the street. Just about everyone is just dying to know: What is she waiting for?
But it doesn’t seem to matter what her response is because before they’ve finished asking the question, the same inquisitors have already added their own reasoning: “Are you too focused on your career?” Or, “Well, you are a career woman.”
The term “career woman,” for which there is no male equivalent (ever hear of a “career man?”), has taken on a pejorative meaning to women who have not chosen a career over having children. Assuming she’s made a choice to focus on her career instead of getting married (or finding a life partner) and having children with that partner is a punch in the gut to the amazing single woman who wants to be a mother. It implies the stereotype that she’s cold-hearted, selfish, or just completely naïve or in denial about her fertility lifespan. The only proof to the widely-assumed claim that her career is her ultimate focus is that she’s got a job.
The “career woman” is a relic of the Women’s Liberation Movement 50 years ago, when a woman who sought a career was an anomaly or judged for making what many believed to be a radical political statement of feminism. But today, there are more women in the workforce than men. It’s hardly a feminist statement to have a job. At the very least, it’s a statement of being a responsible member of society who pays her bills.
Of course, some women do choose to pursue their careers in lieu of being a working mother, or delay motherhood for a couple of years because they feel they need to in order to stay competitive in their industries. Some women believe that their dedication to their career, and the good that they are building through their work, is their ultimate legacy—Oprah Winfrey certainly comes to mind. And some women have absolutely no interest in becoming mothers, their careers notwithstanding.
But as a woman who always yearned to be a mother, and as one who has been called a “feminist career woman,” because I am childless, I can tell you that the “career woman” myth is anachronistic at best, hurtful at worst. And any way you slice it, proven to be simply incorrect.
A recent study by the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology Canada reports that when women were asked about their decision to conceive their first child, 97 percent said that had been waiting to be in a “secure relationship” before having children. Less than 30 percent cited “career goals” as being “very important” to the decision. A similar study, in Australia’s Journal of Population Health, reports that childless women in their 30s want to have children, but cannot due to reasons “beyond their control.” Specific reasons cited include: “not having a partner, not having a stable relationship, or with a partner that did not want children.”
Making the choice to wait for love, marriage, and a stable relationship is the most common reason why most single women who want to be mothers are not mothers, barring a biological fertility challenge. So next time you are about to ask a 30-something friend why she hasn’t become a mother yet—don’t.
Melanie Notkin is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, marketer and the leading voice of the nearly 50 percent of American women who are childless. Notkin is the founder of SavvyAuntie.com, the first online community for aunts and godmothers, and national best-selling author of SAVVY AUNTIE: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts,Godmothers and All Women Who Love Kids (Morrow/HarperCollins 2011). Notkin has been featured on CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, CW as well as on NPR and the BBC and is a regular contributor to Huffington Post Women.