ST CloseUp: Why some women choose to be childfree

Through the stories of Esther, Dawn, Joan and Shirlene, CloseUp finds out why they are childless by choice and how they react to the prevalent view that it is natural for women to want to be mothers.

SINGAPORE - Madam Shirlene Noordin is 52 this year, and she still gets asked when she will have children. The communications director, who has been married for a decade, used to find such questions intrusive, but they now just make her chuckle.

When she was younger and answered that she preferred never to be a mother, friends and relatives often told her she would change her mind. Some even warned that she might regret her decision one day.

Now, past her childbearing years, neither has happened. She and her husband continue to live a fulfilling childfree life.

She is not alone. According to the latest population figures, there is a growing pool of married women in Singapore who do not have children.

In 2020, 13.5 per cent of married women in their 40s did not have children - up from 9.3 per cent in 2010. This follows a similar pattern across all age bands, including those in their 30s and 50s and older.

For some of these women, it is biology that has made the decision for them. But for the others, it is a choice driven by pragmatic, ideological or personal reasons.

Since society still links womanhood to motherhood, many of them face pressure to procreate, and are often labelled selfish or even unnatural for not wanting children.

It does not help that Singapore's total fertility rate has fallen to its lowest ever at 1.1 last year, after declining for the past decades.

While married women who are childless by choice are still the exception, rather than the norm, an ongoing government review on women's issues has sought to understand why some couples have not jumped on the parenthood bandwagon.