Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 963–982 | Cite as

A model of voluntary childlessness

  • Paula E. GobbiEmail author
Original Paper


Demographers and sociologists have studied why women remain childless for more than two decades; however, this specific choice of zero fertility has not interested economists. Permanent childlessness, in developed countries, can concern up to 30 % of the women in a cohort. Childlessness rates can be positively related to average fertility for some cohorts of women. This paper provides an explanation for this using an endogenous fertility model where individuals have different preferences for children. The main mechanism considered goes through the intergenerational evolution of preferences: I show that a reduction in the gender wage gap, or an increase in the fixed cost of becoming a parent, has a negative effect on both fertility and childlessness. The reduction of childlessness is due to a composition effect: small families shrink more than larger families, and this reduces childlessness.


Fertility Childlessness Female labor-market participation 

JEL Classification

J11 J13 O11 



I thank two referees, Thomas Baudin, Raouf Boucekkine, Hippolyte d’Albis, Matthias Doepke, David de la Croix, Axel Gosseries, Ross Guest, Fabio Mariani, Alexia Prskawetz, and Alice Schoonbroodt for helpful comments and references. I also acknowledge the financial support of the Belgian–French speaking community (Grant ARC 009-14018 on “Sustainability”).

Supplementary material

148_2012_457_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (134 kb)
Appendix for: A Model of Voluntary Childlessness (PDF 134 KB)
148_2012_457_MOESM2_ESM.tex (39 kb)
Appendix for: A Model of Voluntary Childlessness (TEX 38.7 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IRESUniversité Catholique de LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium

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