I need a way to describe a woman who does not want children. She does not hate them per se, only will not have anything to do with them.

A couple of options I have gone through; a no-child female, a contra child headhunter. It is a logline for a story in which her ex-lover dies and leaves her with this unique child,

When a unique post-apocalyptic baby is born, a retired _______ becomes its guardian...

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    There isn't a single-word that means a person who has never wanted children, you're going to have to make a compromise, ask for an idiom or an idiomatic expression equivalent.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 26, 2017 at 7:22
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    A highflying headhunter, married to her career...but in your story she's retired. This makes it highly unlikely that she could ever adopt or become a child's guardian unless she was wealthy.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 26, 2017 at 7:23
  • @Mari-LouA In Syk's post apocalyptic worlds, adoption legislation is unlikely to the main stumbling block.
    – Spagirl
    Jun 26, 2017 at 7:36
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    @Syk, as ever I'm going to suggest that you step back from the sentence you are already halfway through building and look again at what it is you need the log line to communicate, You don't need the whole story in there. Would it be enough to convey that 'With no experience of children, X, a retired whatever, finds herself Guardian to a unique child.'?
    – Spagirl
    Jun 26, 2017 at 12:43
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5 Answers 5


The common term these days is child-free:



  1. Not having any children, especially by choice.
    ‘a child-free woman who likes to travel’
    ‘my husband and I are child-free’

For example...

Ms. Handler’s and Mr. Dyer’s desire to be childless — or child-free, as some prefer — syncs with nationwide shifts over the last several decades...

Your sentence, then, would be something like:

When a unique post-apocalyptic baby is born, a retired, child-free headhunter becomes its guardian...

  • 1
    This is what we use regularly. +1 for not being gender specific. Sometimes guys do not want children.
    – Davo
    Jun 26, 2017 at 12:48
  • This also avoids implying anything about ability or desire, merely stating that the person is without children.
    – Davo
    Jun 26, 2017 at 15:13
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    @Davo -- As it is a term commonly used to describe people who choose to not have children, I would disagree. If you wanted to avoid the implication that the person didn't want to have kids, you might be better off saying childless. If the story were set in the past (say, 1970s or before), then child-free would likely not have been in use but nowadays, it is widely used to distinguish from breeders (a mildly derogative term for folks who do have kids.) Jun 26, 2017 at 15:46

"Without a maternal drive" might also work, though it is not a single word.

Maternal [muh-tur-nl] /adjective

  1. of, pertaining to, having the qualities of, or befitting a mother: maternal instincts.

Source: Dictionary.com

Consider "drive", rather than "instinct", if you are concerned with the argument against an assumed innateness of maternal feelings. Or perhaps consider the term "nonmaternal", though I am not sure it is a proper word.


There is a code phrase for this, popularized in the last century but still very recognizable today: career woman. From Oxford Dictionaries:


1.4 [as modifier] (of a woman) interested in pursuing a profession rather than devoting all her time to childcare and housekeeping.

Nowadays we don't think of a career and motherhood as mutually exclusive, but the phrase was coined to make exactly this distinction. Some examples of use:

[M]y wife had an aunt whose daughter was a career woman; she did not want children, and had never had a child . . . . —Fr. Anthony Zimmerman, "Interview: Lloyd J. Duplantis, Ph.D", The Linacre Quarterly, 1999

“She was a career woman. No time for children.” —Vivienne Wallington, The Last Time I Saw Venice, 2011

“Prospective employers can't legally ask if you want children in the near future, but you know for damn sure they'd like to,” she said. “So I say it up front. I'm a career woman with no time for children.” —Cathy Kelly, It Started With Paris, 2015

And a discussion of the anachronism of the phrase, which nonetheless acknowledges its underlying meaning:

The problem with the term “career woman” is that it's anachronistic; it's from a generation ago when a woman who worked was an outlier, a rebel, a feminist.
It's really not relevant to today . . . .
Yet even the Boston University Department of Economics couldn't resist the title “Are Career Women Good for Marriage?” for a 2008 report. The authors explained that by “career women,” they meant any woman, married or single, who works. Which only begs the question: Why are there no “career men”? And while there are certainly women who are child-free by choice (and sometimes that choice is made in order to have more career freedom), most of the women I know want children. —Melanie Notkin, Otherhood: Modern Women Finding A New Kind of Happiness, 2014

I would recommend using this phrase with caution, as it does not generally reflect today's reality and carries more than a whiff of sexism. However, if it works for your audience and story-line you could potentially take advantage of this relic of the battle of the sexes, with something like

When a unique post-apocalyptic baby is born, a former career woman becomes its guardian...

I would substitute former for retired here, just to avoid confusion about her age (unless she is actually in her seventies).

(Of course this phrase will work best if her back-story includes some kind of career that took up much of her time; if she was more a lay-about who happened to have a child phobia, you probably should look for something else.)



The usage of the term "childfree" to describe people who choose not to have children was coined in the English language late in the 20th century. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voluntary_childlessness

It's not my favorite, because it can be confused for "child free," which could ironically make it almost its own opposite(child free and trying to change that).

My next line of thought is to go the opposite way and use a prefix to invert "someone who wants babies." "Broody" means that, but unfortunately it has other meanings and this one is lesser-known. Abroody, unbroody, disbroody, or antibroody?

broody adjective (WANTING CHILDREN) informal If someone, especially a woman, is broody, she feels as if she would like to have a baby: Much to her surprise, Ruth started feeling broody in her late twenties. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/broody

  • Apart from a hyphen how does this differ from @Roger's answer from June?
    – Jim
    Jan 19, 2018 at 21:11

Spinster [spin-ster] /noun

  1. Disparaging and Offensive. a woman still unmarried beyond the usual age of marrying.

Source: Dictionary.com

Though this is perhaps adjacent to the word you are looking for, it does have a similar connotation. In some interpretations, the implication of "spinster" includes qualities that the woman is alone, unappealing to others, and uninviting to others (perhaps associated with feeling dejected by society).

Usage: The development of the word spinster is a good example of the way in which a word acquires strong connotations to the extent that it can no longer be used in a neutral sense. From the 17th century, the word was appended to names as the official legal description of an unmarried woman: Elizabeth Harris of Boston, Spinster. This type of use survives today only in some legal and religious contexts.

In modern everyday English, however, spinster cannot be used to mean simply ‘unmarried woman’; as such, it is a derogatory term, referring or alluding to a stereotype of an older woman who is unmarried, childless, prissy, and repressed.

Source: OED

Another example of the connection between the concept of being a "spinster" and being childless was quickly found in the article "The Return Of The Spinster" (Forbes Magazine, 2015).

Today, a growing share of Boomer and Xer women is choosing to remain unmarried and childless... First coined in the 14th century, the term “spinster” was originally used to describe a woman (typically unmarried) who spun thread for a living. It wasn’t until centuries later that “spinster” took on its contemporary meaning: an older woman who seems unlikely to ever marry and does not have children.

This term has two literary device benefits that might serve the OP well: Thematic Transformation of the Protagonist (From spinster to guardian), Juxtaposition or Foil of the plot (receiving a child) compared to the protagonist.


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