Childlessness in the UK

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



ESRC Centre for Population Change Working Papers


Publication date

September 15, 2015


Levels of childlessness in Britain are high in comparison with many other European countries, with just under one in five women currently reaching age 45 with no biological children of their own. This chapter provides new insights in two ways: First we combine childbearing data from repeated rounds of the General Household Survey and United Kingdom Household Panel Survey to identify how childlessness has increased at a similar rate among all educational groups, but that levels remain far higher among women with academic degree-level education. Secondly, the paper examines childlessness from a life course perspective among men and women born in 1970 who have been followed up within the British Cohort Study. Focusing on cohort members who were childless at age 30, we examine the relationship between fertility intentions expressed at age 30 and achieved childbearing by age 42. At age 42, those men and women who remained childless were invited to give their reasons for remaining childless. Some report that they did not have children 'due to health reasons', many more responded that they 'did not ever want children', whilst others said that they had 'not met the right partner to have children with'. Only a few suggested that they 'had been focused on their career'. We examine these responses in the context of the individual's partnership history and contribute to the debate as to whether the 'perpetual postponement' of childbearing to later ages is acting to increase the proportion who ultimately remain childless





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