Infertility and Self-identification: The Indeterminacy of the Illness-self Relationship

Katherine M. Johnson, Arthur L. Greil, Julia McQuillan, Ophra Leyser-Whalen, Karina M. Shreffler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Nearly one-third to one-half of U.S. women meets the medical criteria for infertility at some point in their reproductive lives. Yet many do not view lack of conception as problematic. Why might some women self-identify as having a fertility problem but others do not? Using two waves of the National Survey of Fertility Barriers, we conducted binary and longitudinal multinomial logistic regression to answer this question. Results suggest that only a portion of women actually experience infertility as a “spoiled identity” or as disruptive to their lives. Rather, consistent with symbolic interactionist perspectives, there is evidence that infertility symptoms (i.e., not conceiving) depend upon interpretations and definitions of the situation. Multiple patterns of self-identification over time (identity non-adopters, maintainers, adopters, and relinquishers) suggest an indeterminate association between illness and impacts on the self, even for a condition that is highly medicalized in the United States.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)388-405
Number of pages18
JournalSociological Perspectives
Issue number3
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • body and embodiment
  • infertility
  • medical sociology
  • self-definition


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