Does Childlessness affect a Woman’s Wellbeing

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What goes through her head when she hears other women playing with their children or when another is mean to their child? Does a childless woman’s happiness get interfered with because she has none of her own? Others say yes while others say that it is the significant other that matters.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—How does having children or not having them affect a woman’s happiness in later life? A new study examining nearly 6,000 women provides an unexpected answer—it’s not so much whether you have children as when you have them.

But even more important than when you become a mother is whether you have anyone else to love in your life.

“Whether a woman has had children or not isn’t likely to affect her psychological well-being in later life,” said University of Michigan sociologist Amy Pienta. “What is more important is whether or not she has a husband, a significant other or close social relationships in her life as she ages.”

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There is evidence showing that when couples age, their psychological wellbeing remains unaffected whether or not they had children. The only difference is that elderly childless couples usually have very minimal social contact.

The empirical evidence on this issue, however, is inconsistent. On the one hand, childless elderly persons score significantly lower on objective measures of social support. For example, childless elderly persons are more likely than elderly parents to live alone, have fewer close family ties, and have less social contact (Chapman 1989; Koropeckyj-Cox 1998; McMullin and Marshall 1996). In addition, childless elderly persons are less likely to expect to have any caregivers in the event of major bouts of sickness (Choi 1994). Despite these social support deficits, however, the majority of available empirical evidence suggests that psychological well-being does not differ significantly between elderly parents and childless elderly persons (e.g., Glenn and McLanahan 1981; Koropeckyj-Cox 1998; McMullin and Marshall 1996; Rempel 1985). Only a few studies have reported otherwise (Beckman and Houser 1982; Kandel, Davies, and Raveis 1985). In view of the vast array of studies reporting that social support directly affects psychological well-being and mediates the effects of undesirable life events (e.g., Hammen 1997; Lin, Dean, and Ensel 1986), the similarity in the psychological well-being of elderly childless persons and parents seems paradoxical.

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Studies also show that being childless does not increase loneliness or depression during old age. Another study however showed that the physical and mental health of childless women went up during their reproductive years.

In one study, Childlessness per se did not significantly increase the prevalence of loneliness and depression at advanced ages, net of other factors. There also was no statistical evidence for the hypothesis that childlessness increases loneliness and depression for divorced, widowed, and never married elderly persons.


Another study found that childless women experience poorer physical and mental health and well-being during the peak reproductive years; however, this trend was reversed for women aged 65 years or more. Although never-married, childless women experienced better health and well-being compared with mothers, this was not the case for childless women who were divorced, separated, or widowed or in a relationship.

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