The purpose of this paper is to extensively report the implications of the global trend of declining fertility rates and an increasingly ageing population. The experiences of childless men are mostly absent from gerontological, psychological, reproduction, and sociological, research. These disciplines have mainly focussed on family formation and practices, whilst the fertility intentions, history, and experience of men have been overlooked. Not fulfilling the dominant social status of parenthood provides a significant challenge to both individual and cultural identity. Distress levels in both infertile men and women have been recorded as high as those with grave medical conditions.
The aim of this paper is to provide some insight into the affect involuntarily childless has on the lives of older men. This auto/biographical qualitative study used a pluralistic framework drawn from the biographical, feminist, gerontological, and life course approaches. Data were gathered from in-depth semi-structured biographical interviews with 14 self-defined involuntary men aged between 49 and 82 years from across the UK. A broad thematic analysis highlighted the complex intersections between involuntary childlessness and agency, biology, relationships, and socio-cultural structures.
Diverse elements affected the men’s involuntary childlessness: upbringing, economics, timing of events, interpersonal skills, sexual orientation, partner selection, relationship formation and dissolution, bereavement, and the assumption of fertility. The importance of relationship quality was highlighted for all the men: with and without partners. Quality of life was affected by health, relationships, and social networks. Awareness of “outsiderness” and a fear of being viewed a paedophile were widely reported.
This is a study based on a small self-selecting “fortuitous” sample. Consequently care should be taken in applying the findings to the wider population.
Health and social care policy, practice and research have tended to focus on family and women. The ageing childless are absent and excluded from policy, practice, and research. Recognition of those ageing without children or family is urgent given that it is predicted that there will be over two million childless people aged 65 and over by 2030 (approximately 25 per cent of the 65 and over population). The consequences for health and social care of individuals and organisations are catastrophic if this does not happen.
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