Childlessness is the term for people - men and women - having no children. Childlessness may have personal, social and/or political significance.


Types of childlessness can be classified into three broad categories:[1]

The two first categories are often grouped under the label "involuntary childlessness". The latter category is often called "voluntary childlessness", also described as being "childfree", occurring when one decides not to reproduce.

See also Clerical celibacy.


The analysis of the three broad categories of childlessness (natural sterility, social sterility, voluntary childlessness) outlined above helps to understand how it has changed over the last century in the United States.[2] At the end of the nineteenth century, income and education levels were low. This made levels of social sterility very high. In addition to the causes mentioned above, the Spanish Influenza epidemics meant that pregnant women who were infected were particularly vulnerable to miscarriages. The Great Depression also impoverished these generations, for whom voluntary childlessness was almost absent. On the whole, the rates of childlessness for married women born between 1871 and 1915 fluctuated between 15 and 20 percent. The rise in both education and overall income allowed subsequent generations to escape from situations where couples were “constrained” from having children, and rates of childlessness began to fall. Over time, the nature of childlessness changed, becoming more and more the chosen outcome of some educated women. A low level of childlessness of 7% was achieved by the generation of the baby boom. It started to rise again for the subsequent generations, with 12 percent of women born in 1964-68 remaining childless. Social causes of childlessness have now completely disappeared for women in union. This is however not true for single women, who are usually poorer, for whom social sterility still exists.

From 2007 to 2011 the fertility rate in the U.S. declined 9%, the Pew Research Center reporting in 2010 that the birth rate was the lowest in U.S. history and that childlessness rose across all racial and ethnic groups to about 1 in 5 versus 1 in 10 in the 1970s.[3]


Reasons for childlessness include, but are not limited to, the following.



Main article: Infertility
  • Effects of social, cultural, and/or legal norms (sometimes[6] referred to as "social infertility"):
  • Combination of
  • Lack of a partner or partner's being of same biological sex as person in question
  • Social and/or legal barriers to family formation through non-biological means (adoption and/or family "blending"), e.g., prohibitions against adoption by single persons, adoption by same-sex couples, marriage to a partner of the same sex who already has children, etc.
  • Economic and/or social pressure to pursue a career before having children, increasing the odds of eventual infertility due to advanced maternal age
  • Lack of resources sufficient to make bearing and/or raising a child a practically viable option:
  • Insufficiency of financial resources vis-à-vis the level of family and other community support available
  • Insufficiency of access to medical care (often overlaps with insufficiency of financial resources)
  • Insufficiency of access to supportive care necessitated by employment commitments or mental-health impairments to daily functioning (see above)

Options for involuntary childlessness

Those that, for whatever reason, are affected from involuntary childlessness do have options available to them. A person or persons that have the necessary components to reproduce, but may have a low sperm count or problems with ovulation could look into options such as artificial insemination or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICIS). Artificial insemination is the process in which sperm is collected via masturbation and inserted into the uterus immediately after ovulation. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection is a more recent technique that involves injecting a single sperm directly into an egg, the egg is then placed in the uterus by in vitro fertilization. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is the process in which a mature ovum is surgically removed from a women's ovary, placed in a medium with sperm until fertilization occurs and then placed in the women's uterus. About 50,000 babies in the United States are conceived this way and are sometimes referred to as "test-tube babies." [7] Other forms of assisted reproductive technology include, gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT) and zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT). Fertility drugs also may improve the chances of conception in women.

Due to complex organ complications some individuals can not produce a biological child; for those individuals an option may be surrogacy or adoption. Surrogacy, in this case a surrogate mother, is the process in which a woman becomes pregnant (usually by artificial insemination or surgical implantation of a fertilized egg) for the purpose of carrying the fetus to term for another woman or couple. Another option may be adoption; to adopt is to take voluntarily (a child of other parents) as one's own child.


All forms of contraception have played a role in voluntary childlessness over time, but the invention of reliable oral contraception contributed profoundly to changes in societal ideas and norms. Voluntary childlessness, resulting from contraception has influenced women's health, laws and policies, interpersonal relationships, feminist issues, and sexual practices among adults and adolescents.[8]

The availability of oral contraception during the late 1900s was directly related to the women's rights movement by establishing, for the first time, a mass distribution of a way to control fertility. The so-called "pill" gave women the opportunity to make different life choices they may not previously been able to make, such as for example, furthering their career. This led to monumental changes in the current gender and family roles.

Margaret Sanger, an activist in 1914, was an important figure during the reproductive rights movement. She coined the term "birth control" and opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. Sanger collaborated with many others to make the first oral contraception possible, these persons include: Gregory Pincus, John Rock, Frank Colton, and Katherine McCormick. The pill was approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for contraceptive use in the year 1960 and although it was controversial, it remained the most popular form of birth control in the U.S. until 1967 when there was a rise in publicity about the possible health risks associated with the pill; consequently sales dropped twenty-four percent. In the year 1988 the original high-dose pill was taken off the market and replaced with a low-dose pill that was considered to have less risks and some health benefits.[9]



For most individuals, for most of history, childlessness has been regarded as a great personal tragedy, involving much emotional pain and grief, especially when it resulted from a failure to conceive or from the death of a child. Before conception was well-understood, childlessness was usually blamed on the woman and this in itself added to the high level of negative emotional and social effects of childlessness. “Some wealthy families also adopted children, as a means of providing heirs in cases of childlessness or where no sons had been born.”[10] The monetary incentives offered by westerners desire for children is so strong that a commercial market in the child laundering business exists.


People trying to cope with involuntary childlessness may experience symptoms of distress that are similar to those experienced by bereaved people, such as health problems, anxiety and depression.[11]


Specific instances of childlessness, especially in cases of royal succession, but more generally for people in positions of power or influence, have had enormous impacts on politics, culture and society. In many cases, a lack of a male child was also considered a type of childlessness, since male children were needed as heirs to property and titles. Examples of historical impacts of actual or potential childlessness include:


Socially, childlessness has also resulted in financial stress and sometimes ruin in societies which depend on their offspring to contribute economically and to support other members of the family or tribe. “In agricultural societies about 20 per cent of all couples would not have children because of problems for at least one of the partners. Worry about assuring the desired birth rate could become an important part of family life … even after a first child was born. … In agricultural societies up to half of all children born would die within two years … (Excess surviving children could among other things, be sent to childless families to provide labour there, reducing upkeep demands at home.) When a population disaster hit – like war or major disease – higher birth rates might briefly be feasible to fill out community ranks.”[14]

In the 20th and 21st centuries, when control over conception became reliable in some countries, childlessness is having an enormous impact on national planning and financial planning.[15] In societies where child-bearing is a sign of a high libido, childlessness may be viewed as a sign of low libido.[16]

Associated Stigmas

In a society that encourages and promotes parenthood, with its current social norms and culture, childlessness can be stigmatizing. The idea couples should reproduce and want to reproduce remains widespread in North America.[17] Childlessness may be considered deviant behavior in marriage and this may lead to adverse effects on the relationship of the couple, as well as their individual identities when pertaining to the lack of children being involuntary. For persons that consider that becoming parents was a critical process of their adult family life, a "transition" as Rossi deems it must take place. This transition is from the anticipated parenthood to an unwanted status of nonparenthood. Such a transition may require the individual to readjust their perspective of self and/or relationship role with their significant other.[18]

Possible Positive Impacts

See also


Guthrie, Gillian (2012) Childless: reflections on life's longing for itself Leichhardt, N.S.W.: A&A Book Publishing ISBN 978-0-9870899-7-7


  1. Baudin, Thomas; de la Croix, David; Gobbi, Paula E. (2015-01-01). "Fertility and Childlessness in the United States". American Economic Review. 105 (6): 1852–82.
  2. "Childlessness is high in the US once again, but this time it's driven by choice, not poverty. | USAPP". Retrieved 2015-10-24.
  3. Sandler, Lauren (August 12, 2013). "Having It All Without Having Children". TIME. Archived from the original on August 4, 2013.
  4. Mosher, W.D. and Pratt, W.F. (1991) Fecundity and infertility in the United States: Incidence and trends.
  5. An example is obstetric fistula which has left many women unable to bear further children and is often invoked by their husbands and communities as a reason for rejecting them. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is the only hospital of its kind in the world dedicated exclusively to women with obstetric fistula. It was founded by Doctors Catherine and Reg Hamlin.
  6. "Sexual Function and Social Infertility," available at[]
  7. Hammond, P., et al. (2009) In vitro fertilization availability and utilization in the United States:A study of demographic social, and economic factors: 1630-1635.
  8. Tyrer L. (May 1999). "Introduction of the pill and its impact". Contraception. 59 (1 Suppl): 11S–16S. doi:10.1016/s0010-7824(98)00131-0. PMID 10342090. |article= ignored (help)
  9. Nikolchev, Alexandra (7 May 2010). "A brief history of the birth control pill". |article= ignored (help)
  10. Stearns, Peter N. (2010). Childhood in world history. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-415-59808-8.
  11. Lechner, L.; Bolman, C.; van Dalen, A. (10 October 2006). "Definite involuntary childlessness: associations between coping, social support and psychological distress". Human Reproduction. 22 (1): 288–294. doi:10.1093/humrep/del327. Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  12. McCurry, Justin (6 September 2006). "Baby boy ends 40-year wait for heir to chrysanthemum throne". The Guardian.
  13. McCurry, Justin (4 November 2005). "Bring back concubines, urges emperor's cousin". The Guardian.
  14. Stearns, Peter N. (2009). Sexuality in world history. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York. p. 18. ISBN 978-0-415-77776-6.
  15. Toshihiko Hara (November 2008). "Increasing Childlessness in Germany and Japan: Toward a Childless Society?". International Journal of Japanese Sociology. 17 (1): 42–62. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6781.2008.00110.x.
  16. Pacheco Palha, A., and Mario F. Lourenco. "Psychological and cross-cultural aspects of infertility and human sexuality." Sexual Dysfunction: Beyond the Brain-Body Connection. Vol. 31. Karger Publishers, 2011. 164-183.
  17. Miall, Charlene (April 1986). "The Stigma of Involuntary Childlessness". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  18. Matthews, Ralph (August 1986). "Infertility and Involuntary Childlessness: The Transition to Nonparenthood". Retrieved 2013-02-03.
  19. 1 2 Gilbert, D.T. Stumbling on Happiness. New York Vintage Books, 2007.

External links

Look up childlessness in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Childlessness
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/22/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.