An increasing number of men and women in Europe do not have children. Some of them are temporarily childless and will have children later in life, while others will be childless forever. Previous studies have mostly focused on the involuntary component of childlessness, its causes and consequences, whereas factors affecting voluntary childlessness remain poorly understood.
In a new paper, Marco Albertini (University of Bologna) and Elisa Brini (University of Trento) focus on the analysis of voluntary childlessness of women and men in Europe, using data from the Generations and Gender Survey. First, they consider the factors associated with the intention of remaining childless or becoming a parent in the near future (i.e. within the next three years) and study the extent to which people change their minds about their childlessness or parenthood intentions, and if they realise their stated intentions in the short term. Second, they rely on the theory of planned behaviour to investigate the role of ideational and sociodemographic factors on the heterogeneity of possible (non-)fertility outcomes.
Their results highlight that the intentions of non-fertility are less stable than those of parenthood, except for people approaching the end of their reproductive life. Interestingly, individuals’ attitudes and perceived social pressure towards parenthood strongly correlate with the stability of intentions to be childless, while socio-economic characteristics and factors related to the individual’s perceived behavioural control emerge to be less relevant.
On a broad spectrum, the study points out that social and cultural factors associated with parenthood are more relevant than economic conditions when it concerns voluntary childlessness. Accordingly, it stresses the notion that childlessness is not always the result of external opportunities or constraints but is also a decision arising from personal and intimate domains of life. Besides contributing to the specific literature on childlessness, the authors also broaden the debate around the link between fertility intentions and behaviours, as they show that fertility intentions waver significantly even in the short term and highlights the need to rely on a (longer) dynamic rather than static perspective to study fertility intentions and their determinants.