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.
This study examined whether life satisfaction varied among women who occupy different motherhood statuses, and if these variations were influenced by differences in…
This study examined whether life satisfaction varied among women who occupy different motherhood statuses, and if these variations were influenced by differences in women’s internalization of cultural motherhood norms. We distinguished among women as biological mothers, stepmothers, and “double mothers,” who were both biological and stepmothers. We also included two groups of women without children: voluntary childfree and involuntary childless women.
Data were drawn from the National Study of Fertility Barriers and analyzed using OLS regression.
Biological mothers reported greater life satisfaction than women in other motherhood statuses. Accounting for the internalization of motherhood norms, double mothers had significantly lower life satisfaction compared to biological mothers, but voluntary childfree women had significantly greater life satisfaction. More detailed analyses indicated that internalization of cultural norms only appears to influence the life satisfaction of women with biological children.
The results suggest that it may not simply be motherhood that affects women’s well-being, but rather that women’s internalization of motherhood ideals, particularly when it corresponds with their motherhood status, significantly impacts well-being. Limitations of this study include small cell sizes for some categories of women where additional distinctions may have been useful, such as lesbian or adoptive mothers. Future work should incorporate diverse family forms and expand on the newly named category “double mothers.”
By providing a more nuanced approach to categorizing motherhood status, including identifying double mothers, stepmothers-only, and two groups of childless women, the study added detail that has been overlooked in previous work on well-being.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Discourses on ageing and childlessness coalesce around the notion that childless women will experience regret and loneliness in old age. In the United Kingdom, the idea…
Discourses on ageing and childlessness coalesce around the notion that childless women will experience regret and loneliness in old age. In the United Kingdom, the idea that children (mostly women) will provide care in old age tends to be normalised and underpins social care provision. In recent times, media coverage of childless women has also tended to sustain and promote this. This discourse occurs within a context where childlessness is on the rise and where there is little academic interest in the topic.
Our chapter will report on a constructivist grounded theory study with women who choose not to have children. A key aim of the study was to explore the consequences of participants’ choices on their lives. Twenty-one women aged between 45 and 75, from across England, Scotland and Wales participated. The age criteria were chosen to reflect the category that is used by the Office of National Statistics to denote that women’s reproduction ends at 45. This also helps to construct a social norm that women aged 45 and over are seen as older women. Findings reveal that most participants experience no regrets following their choice not to have children. Some express ‘half regrets’ while all challenge the societal expectation that without children there will be no one to care for them when they are older.
This supports the limited, mainly autobiographical literature, on loss and regret. It also refutes the unquestioned and widely believed assumption that women who choose not have children will live to regret it. For participants, the choice for motherhood was but one choice from a menu of many others. Their choice was for something more meaningful for them rather than a choice against motherhood. Consequently, participants had no reason to experience loss or regret. These findings also question the discourse, which implies that children will ensure care in older age. It presents a challenge to the myth that the family is a haven of happiness and support in an ever-changing world. Crucially, it supports calls for more inclusive policy making to address the care needs of all older people.