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Existing reviews of research on voluntary childlessness generally take the form of narrative summaries, focusing on main topics investigated over time. In this chapter…
Existing reviews of research on voluntary childlessness generally take the form of narrative summaries, focusing on main topics investigated over time. In this chapter, the authors extend previous literature reviews to conduct a systematic review and content analysis of socio-historical and geopolitical aspects of knowledge production about voluntary childlessness. The dataset comprised 195 peer-reviewed articles that were coded and analysed to explore, inter alia: the main topic under investigation; country location of authors; sample characteristics; theoretical framework and methodology. The findings are discussed in relation to the socio-historical contexts of knowledge production, drawing on theoretical insights concerned with the politics of location, representation and research practice. The shifts in the topics of research from the 1970s, when substantial research first emerged, uphold the view of voluntary childlessness as non-normative. With some regional variation, knowledge is dominated by quantitative, hard science methodologies and mostly generated about privileged, married women living in the global North. The implications of this for future research concerned with reproductive freedom are outlined.
We chose to analyse Hungarian childlessness in order to map whether there is any voluntary childlessness at all in a society which is characterised by strong traditional…
We chose to analyse Hungarian childlessness in order to map whether there is any voluntary childlessness at all in a society which is characterised by strong traditional family values and the widely accepted social norm that everyone should become a parent.
To answer to this question, we applied both quantitative and qualitative methods. First, we analysed the first three waves of the Hungarian panel survey ‘Turning Points of the Life Course’ conducted in 2001, 2004 and 2008. The focus is on men and women who were childless in 2001 and were still childless in 2008. To have a better understanding of the background of the quantitative results, we have also analysed 55 life-history interviews conducted with heterosexual men and women, who were recruited by using chain-referral sampling.
According to the qualitative findings the categorisation of childless people is quite fluid. For example, postponers became definitely childless while some originally voluntarily childless respondents became parents. However, the qualitative analysis allowed us to understand the mechanism behind this. In addition, using mixed methods also highlighted some inconsistencies between the qualitative and quantitative results.
Becoming a mother is a significant transition in adult development. For women who wanted to have children but found themselves unable to do so, life without the fulfilment…
Becoming a mother is a significant transition in adult development. For women who wanted to have children but found themselves unable to do so, life without the fulfilment of motherhood can affect meaning-making in everyday life. Although increasing numbers of studies concerning childlessness have been carried out, much of this research has tended to focus on infertility and issues around fertility treatments. Little is known, however, about the psychological impact childlessness can have on women in midlife and how they experience the absence of children. The aim of this chapter is to offer readers an overview of psychological understanding in current research trends by reviewing papers that focus on women in midlife who are involuntarily childless. Findings from the 40 most relevant papers will be discussed under one of four key features: (1) psychological distress: medical consequences of infertility, (2) childlessness: life-span perspectives, (3) involuntary childlessness: psychosocial perspectives and (4) coping: ways of building resilience. The findings point to the dominance of quantitative approaches in researching infertility, while confirming that little has been carried out that looks at lived experience of involuntary childlessness. I hope the findings shown here will point to the necessity of psychological research applying qualitative experiential approaches that can facilitate a deeper understanding of women facing this challenge.
Over the last two to three decades, European welfare states have witnessed fundamental changes in both family and labour market structures with many more women being in…
Over the last two to three decades, European welfare states have witnessed fundamental changes in both family and labour market structures with many more women being in the paid labour market. While this was seen to address previous problems linked to women’s disadvantage, it has also been argued to give rise to new risk and social inequalities, including falling fertility rates and increasing childlessness. Research has identified the lack of affordable childcare as a key factor in childlessness leading to a strong EU focus on early childhood education and care. Since 2000, the EU has played a more proactive role in policies and initiatives aimed to address decreasing fertility rates with greater pressure for convergence among member states. However, there has continued to be a large degree of variation between countries. This chapter thus examines the case of Germany which has one of the highest levels of childlessness in Europe. It focuses on the intersection between childlessness and childcare provision in Germany and analyses the existing childcare arrangements with a view to understand how they influence childlessness. Particular attention is given to the role of the German government as the main actor in the process to explore ideology-related explanations of German policy-makers which led to contradictory policies. Relying on an extensive review of the related literature and policy documents, together with the personal interviews with policy-makers, academics and women’s organisations, this chapter concludes that the relatively conservative outlook of the German government which prioritises the motherhood and caregiver role, and the dominance of the corporate welfare system, has limited developments to improve access to childcare resulting in ‘a culture of childlessness’ in Germany (Kreyenfeld & Konietzka, 2017).
Five years ago a conference on Children and Marriage would probably not have included a paper on marriages without children. Having children in marriage conforms to one of society's strongest expectations; conversely not having any is portrayed as both undesirable and deviant. Society's prescriptions relating to parenthood have given rise to a number of assumptions about childless marriages. Briefly, these maintain that the causes of childlessness are almost always involuntary, that marriages without children will be less satisfactory and more prone to divorce than parental marriages, and that childlessness is generally associated negatively with various measures of mental health. It is only recently that such assumptions have been questioned, and that voluntary childlessness has become a subject of research in its own right, rather than as an aberration from the “normal” pattern of behaviour. In Britain three chief reasons for an upsurge in interest in childless by choice marriages are apparent. Firstly, there have been indications that couples are delaying childbirth in marriage and this has led to speculation that in some cases, at least, this delay would lead to higher rates of childlessness when this cohort of women had completed childbearing. Figure 1 illustrates both this trend and the fact that in the past high rates of childlessness in early marriage were associated with high rates of final childlessness. Secondly, in 1976 a pressure group was formed by some voluntarily childless individuals; its aim was to campaign for a reduction in pronatalist pressure in society. This group attracted a good deal of interest from the popular press and in the late seventies and early eighties many articles looking at various aspects of voluntary childlessness have been published. Thirdly, and most significantly, voluntary childlessness represents an alternative family form and has come into the realm of sociological studies of the family along with other lifestyles (such as one‐parent families or homosexual couples) that were once considered deviant and therefore outside the mainstream of society. It is now recognised that such living arrangements are both valid as subjects for study in their own right and in terms of the understanding they may give of more traditional arrangements.
Explanations for voluntary or intentional childlessness range from macro-level forces, such as feminism and access to contraceptives, to micro-level or individual…
Explanations for voluntary or intentional childlessness range from macro-level forces, such as feminism and access to contraceptives, to micro-level or individual preferences, such as the prioritisation of leisure time over childrearing. However, some researchers contend that the decision (not) to have children is likely impacted by overlapping factors rather than a dichotomised characterisation of internal or external factors. This debate similarly reflects Pierre Bourdieu’s ‘third way’ theoretical and methodological orientation. Bourdieu argued against a false dichotomy between the influence of structure over an individual and the ability for individuals to make active, free choices. He instead claimed that the social world consists of a complex interplay of both individual and structural factors, which he conceptualised as habitus, capital and fields. This chapter initiates the link between current understandings of childbearing preferences with Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus (our taken-for-granted, internalised ideologies or identities), capital (economic, social, cultural and symbolic resources) and fields (the external social structures or institutions in which we interact) and proposes quantitative measures of childbearing habitus and capital.
This chapter consists of an exploratory comparison of characteristics of non-parents in relation to childbearing preferences, suggesting measures to identify deeply rooted childbearing habitus and the relationship between access to various forms of capital and the habitus. This study utilises survey responses from a sample of 972 childless men and women between 25 and 40 years of age, assessing measures of social support, cultural norms and economic resources in relation to participants’ preference to have or not to have children in the future. A multivariate nested logistic regression was conducted to explore the odds of identifying as voluntarily childless (VC) (not wanting or probably not wanting, to have children in the future) based on socio-demographic factors, as well as various measures of social, economic, cultural and symbolic capital. Findings indicate several variations in significant factors contributing to a preference to remain childfree. Measures of cultural capital, including gender ideologies and pronatalist ideologies, appeared to be the greatest predictors of childbearing habitus. These findings support research suggesting that VC adults are more egalitarian and less traditional in gender relations as well as pronatalist assumptions.
Japanese women’s life courses have changed dramatically in recent history. Yet, transformation of the meanings and experiences of childlessness did not follow a linear…
Japanese women’s life courses have changed dramatically in recent history. Yet, transformation of the meanings and experiences of childlessness did not follow a linear, one-dimensional path. Childlessness in Japan today – strongly influenced by Western, modern education after the World War II – can indeed be interpreted as a form of liberation from a restrictively gendered life-course. However, in Japan’s pre-modern period, there were in fact alternative paths available for women to remain childless. As Japan became nationalised and the meanings of Japanese womanhood shifted, childlessness became increasingly stigmatised and notably, stigmatised across social classes.
This chapter provides concise accounts of the social meanings of marriage and fertility from the Tokugawa period through the Meiji period and continues with analysis of pressures faced by contemporary Japanese women who are childless. Also highlighted are the particular socio-demographic contexts which have brought involuntary childlessness, too, into the realms of public discussion and expected action on the part of the government. Through its account of the Japanese context, this chapter emphasises the larger theoretical, sociological argument that the historically placed social construction of childlessness – and thus, of the experiences and identities of childless women – always occurs through particular intersections of cultural, political-economic and demographic conditions.
In childlessness literature, researchers often engage in a discussion of why some women (and men) intend or choose to remain childless, with an emphasis on macro-level or…
In childlessness literature, researchers often engage in a discussion of why some women (and men) intend or choose to remain childless, with an emphasis on macro-level or interpersonal experiences. However, further research is needed to identify the ways in which voluntarily childless (VC) adults actively negotiate the social world among structural influences that simultaneously value parenthood and place complex burdens on parents. Utilising the Bourdieuian concepts of habitus, capital and field, this chapter contributes to a shift in the conversation from ‘why’ individuals remain childless towards an understanding of ‘how’ childbearing preferences impact individuals’ lives in practice.
This research compares experiences and characteristics of non-parents in relation to childbearing preferences. This study explores a sample of 972 participants’ responses to two open-ended questions addressing particular social arenas or experiences where they feel pressured or encouraged to have children as well as those where they feel pressured or encouraged not to have children. Responses were coded using a general inductive approach to identify emerging themes regarding the social fields and the nature of the interactions relevant to childbearing preferences. A between group comparison of temporarily childless (TC) and VC participants indicated a number of similarities and differences that highlight the contradictions, hardships and benefits of actively deciding to delay or forgo having children.
Both groups frequently indicated family, friends, work or school, public spaces and other structural and cultural factors pressuring or encouraging them to have children, but also indicated pressures or encouragement within similar fields advising them not to have children. For both groups, many of the responses highlighted the contradictory nature of these messages. The similarities and differences between groups also highlight ways in which the current status of non-parent can lead to certain similar social experiences, regardless of personal preference for the future, while also showing a number of ways these encounters are experienced or perceived differently, based on this preference.