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Examining the Stigma and Stereotypes Related to Involuntarily Childless Women Using the Stereotype Content Model and Weiner’s Attribution Affect Action Model



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The degree to which involuntarily childless women are stigmatized, stereotyped, and socially sanctioned by the Canadian general public is not well understood. Using a series of online questionnaires which targeted variables outlined by the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) and Weiner’s Attributions-Affect-Action (AAA) model, I examined the attributions associated with various groups of involuntarily childless women, affective reactions elicited by the women, and whether different modes of support to aid the women in accessing assisted reproductive technology (ART) to overcome fertility issues would be offered by participants. To determine the appropriateness of using the SCM to examine differential stereotypes applied to involuntarily childless women, for Study 1 a sample of undergraduates (N =204) rated different categories of women on core SCM variables. To further test the suitability of the SCM and examine the potential use of the AAA model, in Study 2 another sample of undergraduates (N = 195) rated different categories of women encompassing diverse contexts of infertility or reproductive challenges (i.e., locus of control for fertility) on the main variables for each theory. Expanding on the first two studies, Study 3 employed a between-group design to examine the affective and behavioural outcomes associated with stereotypes of involuntarily childless women. Individuals from an undergraduate sample (N = 183) were randomly presented one of four vignettes which described an involuntarily childless woman that represented one of the four SCM quadrants. Participants rated the woman they were assigned on the core SCM and AAA model variables. To expand on Study 3, a stratified by province, randomly selected Canadian sample of participants (N = 554) was recruited. Participants were randomly assigned to one of four vignettes and rated the involuntarily childless woman they read about on the main SCM and AAA model variables. A clear pattern emerged across each of the studies whereby some involuntarily childless women were more negatively stereotyped compared to others. In particular, women who: 1) experienced fertility issues due to their STI status; 2) were potentially capable of personally affording fertility treatments; 3) were trying to “have it all” (career and motherhood); and/or, 4) were potentially avoiding the experience of pregnancy by using a surrogate tended to be held more responsible, evoked more contempt, and were not admired, envied, pitied, nor seen as deserving of financial support in their pursuit of fertility treatments compared to other groups of women. However, in contrast to past literature, overall many of the women in the present research were positively evaluated. For example, none of the women were ever considered to be “bad mothers” and participants thought that they “deserved to access and receive IVF” to realize their motherhood intentions. Overall, the findings support the utility of the SCM and AAA model for examining the stereotypes and sanctioning associated with involuntarily childless women. Further, the stereotypes and sanctioning enacted on these groups are quite nuanced and dependent on perceived locus of control for fertility issues. Suggested interventions are those that target fertility beliefs/knowledge as well as social norms around childlessness. Further investigation of public policies regarding access to ART as well as additional research on the relationship between felt/perceived and enacted stigma related to involuntary childlessness are recommended.



involuntarily childlessness, stigma, stereotypes, assisted reproductive technology (ART), Stereotype Content Model (SCM), Weiner's Attribution, Affect, Action (AAA) Model



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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