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Publication . Doctoral thesis . 2010

Remaining childless : Causes and consequences from a life course perspective

Open Access
Published: 12 Feb 2010
Country: Netherlands

Little is know about childless individuals in the Netherlands, although currently one out of every five Dutch individuals remains childless. Who are they? How did they end up being childless? How and to what extent are their life outcomes influenced by their childlessness? By focusing on individual life histories and interdependencies between different life domains, in this study, these questions are studied from a life course perspective. Using data from the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study, the causes and consequences of remaining childless are scrutinized for both women and men. In general, the results of this dissertation are consistent with the principle of life histories and interdependencies between domains. In the first empirical chapter, the causes of childlessness are examined. There, evidence is found for the importance of considering life histories when trying to understand why people end up childless. Educational, occupational and marital pathways shape the likelihood of remaining childless. Moreover, the findings indicate that women and men have distinctive pathways into childlessness. Educational attainment increases the likelihood of remaining childless among women only. A stable career increases the likelihood of remaining childless among women, but it increases the likelihood of entering fatherhood. Years without a partner is positively associated with childlessness among both women and men. Not having had a partnership and having had multiple partnerships are strong determinants of childlessness, especially among men. The second empirical chapter examines differences in values regarding familial responsibility between childless individuals and parents. The results show that differences exist depending on the type of norms of family responsibility studied. Childless individuals, and in most cases only those who opt voluntarily for a childless life, have a weaker sense of universal family responsibility in comparison with parents. Irrespective of parental status, women always feel personally responsible for their own families. Men were found to need the presence of children to activate the significance of family in their own personal lives. Differences between childless individuals and parents are attributable to selection rather than to adaptation. The results from the third and fourth empirical chapter are consistent with the notion of interdependencies between life domains. The third chapter examined the consequences of entering parenthood for feelings of wellbeing. Where previous work often studied the transition to parenthood in a social vacuum, this chapter takes into account the co-occurrence of other life course transitions. The results show a moderate impact of entering parenthood on feelings of well-being. Insofar effects of making the transition to parenthood emerge, they are attributable to changes in partner status and work hours. The fourth and final empirical chapter in this dissertation focuses on the long-term impact of childlessness for men’s lives. I extended on previous work by focusing on partnership history as a possible explanation for differences between childless men and fathers. The results show that the impact of childlessness is weaker than was expected. Many initial differences between childless men and fathers are attributable to differences in their partnership history. Nevertheless, childless men differ from resident fathers regarding their community involvement, their level of income and their satisfaction with life. Childless men differ from nonresident fathers with respect to their income and work hours.


Sociaal-culturele Wetenschappen (SOWE)

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Doctoral thesis . 2010
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