Why childless men and women give up the desire for a child

Johannes Huinink, University of Bremen
Petra Buhr, University of Bremen

We investigate why childless men and women who initially wanted to have children and have postponed the formation of a family finally give up the desire for a child. Although childlessness and low fertility in the western world have been studied extensively, this particular question has rarely attracted attention in demographic research. Previous studies dealing with the stability and instability of the desire for children and childbearing intentions provide some – but still insufficient – evidence on why childless individuals abandon their desire to have children at a particular time. We test three types of explanations for giving up family plans: First, we propose that childless individuals become used to a lifestyle without children and are apprehensive that children may negatively impact highly valued routines in their lives (adaptation hypothesis). Second, men or women may think that they do not meet the prerequisites of parenthood (e.g. partnership) and may be discouraged when approaching the end of the fertile period (frustration hypothesis). Third, the strength of the individual’s desire for children could matter. If, for instance, childless men and women had not really planned to have a child in the past, they could be more ready to give up the desire (persistence hypothesis. An analysis of possible effects of age norms must be left for later analysis at this point. To test our hypotheses we use data from the first four waves of the German Family Panel (pairfam) and three waves of a complementary sample of eastern German respondents (DemoDiff). The data cover a period of three years in the life courses of the members of two birth cohorts (1971-73 and 1981-83). Our findings provide new insights into how the process of giving up the desire for children might work. There is evidence that all three explanations play a certain role.

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Presented in Session 88: Childlessness