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Part seven: Child-Free


HISTORIANS SAY that the 1960s and '70s marked a lull in the social pressure to reproduce. Pop culture heroes such as Mary Tyler Moore and James Bond were unburdened by children. News magazines wrote profiles of busy, contented, child-free couples. Kids were "a drag."

In 1971, feminist writer Ellen Peck published an influential book titled, The Baby Trap, arguing against the restrictive maternal role assigned to women. Peck wrote that for many women, childbearing "marks the end of adventure, of growth, of sexuality, of life itself." A year later, the National Association of Non-Parents formed to promote the benefits of childlessness (the group faded in the 1980s).

In the 1960s and 70s, a number of events and ideologies combined to give men -- and especially women -- a new sense of control over their reproductive "careers." The highly effective birth control pill meant couples could marry and establish careers with less risk of an unexpected pregnancy. For some Americans, the sexual revolution and feminist movement rewrote social textbooks on how to be a family.

Temple University historian Margaret Marsh says contemporary social fears over delayed childbearing and infertility are--in part--a reaction to feminism in the 1960s and 70s. LISTEN

For those with fertility troubles, doctors prescribed the ovarian stimulation drugs Clomid and Pergonal and new surgical techniques helped some men raise their sperm counts. University of Minnesota Historian Sara Evans says that for middle-class white Americans, the twin liberations promised by birth control and assisted reproduction created an illusion of human mastery over biology. After all, the movement once called birth control was now "planned parenthood."

"The notion that you could decide when to have a child and that you could fit that in to all sorts of other plans about your life is deeply ingrained in the American middle class," Evans says. "To plan it and then not have it happen is a bit of an affront."

Part eight: Baby Craze Redux