By Nara Schoenberg
Melanie Notkin could not have been clearer about her desire to have children. At age 12, she was buying baby-name books.
When she was 23 and interviewing for her first job in New York, she inquired about maternity benefits, just in case.
But a few years ago when a TV news producer approached Notkin, an entrepreneur and Huffington Post contributor, about appearing on his show, he didn’t even entertain the possibility that Notkin, like most American women, wanted to be a mom.
“We’ve been doing a story on women who are childless by choice,” the producer wrote in an email. “Are you available?”
Notkin, author of the book “Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness” (recently released in paperback by Seal Press), is part of a largely invisible segment of American women: those who are childless in their late 30s and beyond because they haven’t found the right partner.
Fifteen percent of women in the 40- to 44-year-old age group were childless in 2014, up from 10 percent in the 1970s, according to a recent Pew Research Center report.
A frequently cited 2006 study in the Journal of Marriage and Family suggests that about 40 percent of the 1.6 million childless women ages 40-44 are childless due to fertility problems. About 16 percent still expect to have children, perhaps because they’re actively trying. But no one really knows how many of the remaining 44 percent, who are presumably fertile but expect no children, are childless by choice and how many are childless because they lack a partner, because key studies weren’t designed to answer that question.
“It’s an important question,” said Gladys Martinez, a statistician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Being able to know if women are delaying childbearing because they haven’t found the right partner, that’s a new path that we haven’t studied before.”