Journal of Population Research

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 151–170 | Cite as

Comparing characteristics of voluntarily childless men and women

  • Warren Waren
  • Heili Pals


Voluntary childlessness among women has been well researched, but the theories derived from that work may not apply to men. In this paper, we test whether or not female-derived explanations of voluntary childlessness are applicable to voluntarily childless men. We use US data from the National Survey of Family Growth to compare voluntarily childless men to other men and to voluntarily childless women in an effort to determine the distinctions between groups. We examine four long-held explanations of female voluntary childlessness and test their application to men: demographic, socialization, economic, and attitudinal differences. We find that demographic and socialization variables predict voluntary childlessness in both men and women similarly. Traditional sex role belief decreases the probability of being voluntarily childless for both men and women, though the effect is slightly stronger for women. However, variables associated with economic theory do not predict voluntary childlessness for men. Most importantly, education is not a significant predictor of voluntary childlessness for men, while it greatly increases the chances of being voluntarily childless among women. We conclude that new theories of voluntary childlessness need to be developed or existing theories refined to take into account the gendered routes to childlessness—especially theories explaining the different effect of education on men’s and women’s childlessness.


Childlessness Voluntary childlessness Voluntarily childless Child-free Male Family 


  1. Abma, J. C., & Martinez, G. M. (2006). Childlessness among older women in the United States: Trends and profiles. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68(4), 1045–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Becker, G. S. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Berrington, A. (2004). Perpetual postponers? Women’s, men’s and couple’s fertility intentions and subsequent fertility behaviour. Population Trends, 117, 9–19.Google Scholar
  4. Boyd, R. L. (1989). Minority status and childlessness. Sociological Inquiry, 59(3), 331–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bulanda, R. E. (2004). Paternal involvement with children: The influence of gender ideologies. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(1), 40–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bumpass, L. L. (1973). Is low fertility here to stay? Family Planning Perspectives, 5, 67–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bumpass, L. L., & Cloe, M. K. (2004). Attitudes relating to marriage and family life. In N. O. Tsuya & L. L. Bumpass (Eds.), Marriage, work, and family life in comparative perspective: Japan, South Korea, and the United States (pp. 19–38). Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.Google Scholar
  8. Cannold, L. (2005). What, no baby?: Why women are losing the freedom to mother, and how they can get it back. Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Center Press.Google Scholar
  9. Carmichael, G. A., & Whittaker, A. (2007). Choice and circumstance: Qualitative insights into contemporary childlessness in Australia. European Journal of Population, 23(2), 111–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chandra, A., Martinez, G. M., Mosher, W. D., Abma, J. C., & Jones, J. (2005). Fertility, family planning, and reproductive health of U.S. women: Data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Vital Health Statistics, 25, 1–160.Google Scholar
  11. Connidis, I. A., & McMullin, J. A. (1993). To have or have not: Parent status and the subjective well-being of older men and women. The Gerontologist, 33(5), 630–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dykstra, P., & Keizer, R. (2009). The wellbeing of childless men and fathers in mid-life. Ageing and Society, 29(8), 1227–1242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fisher, K., & Charnock, D. (2003). Partnering and fertility patterns: Analysis of the HILDA Survey, wave 1. Melbourne: Paper presented at HILDA Conference.Google Scholar
  14. Galinsky, E., Aumann, K., & Bond, J. T. (2008). Times are changing: Gender and generation at work and at home. In 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce. New York: Families and Work Institute.Google Scholar
  15. Greenstein, T. N. (2000). Economic dependence, gender, and the division of labor in the home: A replication and extension. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62(2), 322–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hagestad, G. O., & Call, V. R. A. (2007). Pathways to childlessness. Journal of Family Issues, 28(10), 1338–1361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Heaton, T. B., Jacobson, C. K., & Fu, X. N. (1992). Religiosity of married couples and childlessness. Review of Religious Research, 33(3), 244–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Houseknecht, S. K. (1987). Voluntary childlessness. In M. B. Sussman & S. K. Steinmetz (Eds.), Handbook of marriage and the family (pp. 369–395). New York: Plenum Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jacobson, C. K., Heaton, T. B., & Taylor, K. M. (1988). Childlessness among American women. Biodemography and Social Biology, 35(3–4), 186–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jeffries, S., & Konnert, C. (2002). Regret and psychological well-being among voluntarily and involuntarily childless women and mothers. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 54(2), 89–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Keizer, R., Dykstra, P. A., & Jansen, M. D. (2008). Pathways into childlessness: Evidence of gendered life course dynamics. Journal of Biosocial Science, 40, 863–878.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Keizer, R., Dykstra, P. A., & Poortman, A.-R. (2009). Life outcomes of childless men and fathers. European Sociological Review, 26, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kiernan, K. (2001). The rise of cohabitation and childbearing outside marriage in Western Europe. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 15, 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Knijn, T., Ostner, I., & Schmitt, C. (2006). Men and (their) families: Comparative perspectives on men’s roles and attitudes towards family formation. In J. Bradshaw & A. Hatland (Eds.), Social policy, employment and family change in comparative perspective (pp. 179–198). Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  25. Koropeckyj-Cox, T. (2002). Beyond parental status: Psychological well-being in middle and old age. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(4), 957–971.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Koropeckyj-Cox, T., & Call, V. R. A. (2007). Characteristics of older childless persons and parents. Journal of Family Issues, 28(10), 1362–1414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Koropeckyj-Cox, T., & Pendell, G. (2007). The gender gap in attitudes about childlessness in the United States. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 899–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lesthaeghe, R., & Moors, G. (1995). Living arrangements and parenthood: Do values matter? In R. A. de Moor (Ed.), Values in Western societies (pp. 217–250). Tilburg: Tilburg University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Letherby, G. (2002). Childless and bereft? Stereotypes and realities in relation to ‘voluntary’ and ‘involuntary’ childlessness and womanhood. Sociological Inquiry, 72(1), 7–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lunneborg, P. W. (1999). The chosen lives of childfree men. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.Google Scholar
  31. Maher, J., & Dever, M. (2004). What women (and men) want: Births, policies and choices. Melbourne: School of Political and Social Inquiry, Monash University.Google Scholar
  32. Martinez, G., Daniels, K., & Chandra, A. (2012). Fertility of men and women aged 15–44 years in the United States: National Survey of Family Growth, 2006–2010. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Division of Vital Statistics.Google Scholar
  33. McDonald, P. (2002). Sustaining fertility through public policy: The range of options. Population (English edition), 57(3), 417–446.Google Scholar
  34. Mosher, W. D., & Bachrach, C. A. (1982). Childlessness in the United States: Estimates from the National Survey of Family Growth. Journal of Family Issues, 3(4), 517–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mulder, C. H. (2006). Home-ownership and family formation. Journal of Housing and the Built Environment, 21(3), 281–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. National Center for Health Statistics (2004). Public use data file documentation National Survey of Family Growth Cycle 6: 2002 User’s guide. Hyattsville, MD.Google Scholar
  37. Oppenheimer, V. K. (2000). The continuing importance of men’s economic position in marriage formation. In L. J. Waite (Ed.), The ties that bind: Perspectives on marriage and cohabitation (pp. 283–301). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  38. Park, K. (2005). Choosing childlessness: Weber’s typology of action and motives of the voluntarily childless. Sociological Inquiry, 75(3), 372–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Parr, N. (2007). Which men remain childless: The effects of early lifecourse, family formation, working life and attitudinal variables. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of Population Association of America, New York, 29–31 March.Google Scholar
  40. Parr, N. (2010). Childlessness among men in Australia. Population Research and Policy Review, 29, 319–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Poston, D. (1974). Income and childlessness: Is the relationship always inverse? Social Biology, 3, 296–307.Google Scholar
  42. Poston, D. (1976). Characteristics of voluntarily and involuntarily childless wives. Social Biology, 23, 198–209.Google Scholar
  43. Poston, D. (1990). Voluntary and involuntary childlessness among Catholic and non-Catholic women: Are the patterns converging? Social Biology, 37(2), 251–265.Google Scholar
  44. Poston, D., & Gotard, E. (1975). Trends in childlessness in the United States, 1910–1975. Social Biology, 24, 212–234.Google Scholar
  45. Prinz, C. (1995). Cohabiting, married, or single: Portraying, analyzing, and modeling new living arrangements in the changing societies of Europe. Brookfield, VT: Avebury.Google Scholar
  46. Rovi, S. L. D. (1994). Taking ‘no’ for an answer: Using negative reproductive intentions to study the childless/childfree. Population Research and Policy Review, 13(4), 343–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rowland, D. T. (2007). Historical trends in childlessness. Journal of Family Issues, 28, 1311–1337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Seltzer, J. A. (2004). Cohabitation in the United States and Britain: Demography, kinship, and the future. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66(4), 921–928.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Somers, M. D. (1993). A comparison of voluntarily childfree adults and parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 55(3), 643–650.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Spence, N. J., & Eberstein, I. W. (2009). Age at first birth, parity, and post-reproductive mortality among white and black women in the US, 1982–2002. Social Science and Medicine, 68(9), 1625–1632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Spraggins, R. E. (2003). Women and men in the United States: March 2002. Current Population Reports, US Census Bureau, P20-544. Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  52. Sweeney, M. M. (2010). The reproductive context of cohabitation in the United States: Recent change and variation in contraceptive use. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(5), 1155–1170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Tanturri, M. L., & Mencarini, L. (2008). Childless or childfree? Paths to voluntary childlessness in Italy. Population and Development Review, 34(1), 51–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Thomson, E., & Bernhardt, E. (2010). Education, values, and cohabitation in Sweden. Marriage and Family Review, 46(1–2), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Thornton, A., & Young-DeMarco, L. (2001). Four decades of trends in attitudes toward family issues in the United States: The 1960s through the 1990s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 63, 1009–1037.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Veevers, J. E. (1979). Voluntary childlessness: A review of issues and evidence. Marriage and Family Review, 2(2), 2–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

Personalised recommendations