In previous research, women without children are perceived more negatively than are mothers (Kopper and Smith 2001; LaMastro 2001; Lampman and Dowling-Guyer 1995). The present study investigated perceptions, emotions, and behaviors toward women based on parental status. Undergraduate students (N = 299) rated women described as mothers, involuntarily childless, or permanently childfree-by-choice, then completed measures of competence, warmth, status, competition, emotions, and behaviors. Mothers and childless women were rated as warmer than competent, and childfree women were rated more competent than warm. Correlations demonstrated that noncompetitive groups were perceived as warm and that high status groups were perceived as competent. Warmth was more predictive than competence of most behaviors. In analyses of variance, mothers were the most admired group, eliciting helping behaviors; childless women elicited pity; and childfree women elicited envy, disgust, and harm behaviors. Nearly all relations between perceptions and behaviors were mediated by at least one emotion, supporting the primacy of emotions over perceptions in influencing behaviors. Mine is the first known study to establish that combinations of perceptions, emotions, and behaviors toward women vary with parental status. Moreover, current results suggest that negative perceptions and emotions toward childfree women may result in harm from others. Finally, my study supports the persistence of negative perceptions of women without children in a contemporary sample of emerging U.S. adults.
Sex Roles – Springer Journals
Published: Jul 15, 2016
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