Childlessness in the UK has stopped increasing

CPS's Professor Ann Berrington has provided a significant contribution to a new book 'Childlessness in Europe: Contexts, Causes, and Consequences' edited by Professor Michaela Kreyenfeld, and Professor Dirk Konietzka and published by Springer as Open Access. The book contains a collection of papers written by leading demographers and sociologists, revealing reasons for high levels of childlessness in Europe and indicating that historical patterns may be on the verge of shifting in some countries.

Ann's chapter discusses how levels of childlessness in the UK which had previously been increasing, especially amongst the most educated, now appear to have stabilized or perhaps even declined amongst the youngest cohorts.

Using unique prospective data from the 1970 British Birth Cohort Study (BCS70), Ann examines the childbearing intentions of childless men and women at age 30, and investigates the likelihood of these men and women becoming a parent by age 42. Findings reveal that relatively few men and women from the BCS70 are rejecting parenthood per se with about one in eight of those who are childless at age 30 said they did not intend to have children.

Many of those who are childless at 30 are postponing their fertility. Just under two-thirds of childless men and women at age 30 expressed a positive intention to have a child in the future. However, 30 % of those who were childless at age 30 and who said they intended to have a child were still childless at age 42. The study looked at the reasons given for not (yet) having had children among those who are childless at age 42. Respondents gave a variety of reasons for not having had a child: around three in ten said they "had not wanted children", and two in ten said they had "never met the right person". Health issues were also frequently cited, especially by women, who were more likely than men to have reported their own infertility problems. Because women's ability to conceive decreases with age, especially over age 35, the delay in childbearing to later in the life course and the increased level of childlessness among cohorts born from the 1950s onwards may be causally linked.

The study showed that many men and women are uncertain in their childbearing intentions. Ann comments that 'if this reflects respondents' difficulties in areas such as housing, or in combining work and family, then social policy changes relating to, for example, work life balance or childcare could potentially influence decisions and reduce the number of women and couples who are not fulfilling their childbearing desires'.

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