, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 129–149 | Cite as

From Some to None? Fertility Expectation Dynamics of Permanently Childless Women

  • Alison GemmillEmail author


Permanent childlessness is increasingly acknowledged as an outcome of a dynamic, context-dependent process, but few studies have integrated a life course framework to investigate the complex pathways leading to childlessness. This study focuses on an understudied yet revealing dimension of why individuals remain childless: stated fertility expectations over the life course. Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort, I use a combination of sequence analysis, data-driven clustering techniques, and multivariable regression models to identify and describe groups of permanently childless women who follow similar trajectories of stated fertility expectations. Results indicate that a little more than one-half (56 %) of eventually childless women fall into a cluster where childlessness is expected before age 30. Women in the remaining clusters (44 %) transition to expecting childlessness later in the life course but are differentiated by the types of trajectories that precede the emergence of a childless expectation. Results from multivariable regression show that several respondent characteristics, including race/ethnicity, education, and marital history, predict cluster membership. Taken together, these findings add to a growing body of literature that provides a more nuanced description of permanently childless women and motivates further research that integrates interdependencies between life course domains and fertility expectations and decision-making of those who remain childless.


Childlessness Fertility expectations Life course Sequence analysis 



I am grateful for helpful feedback from Joshua Goldstein and Jennifer Johnson-Hanks. Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number T32-HD007275. The content is solely the responsibility of the author and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Family, Population & Preventive Medicine, Program in Public HealthStony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

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