Pew Research Center  just came out with a new report on the numbers of childless women using mostly data from the June fertility supplement of the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (based on combined 2006-2008 data). Let’s first look the overall numbers, then beginning in the next post… …discuss specific results, including education, race/ethnicity, marital status, and comparing women with and without children.

The report uses the standard measure of childlessness at the end of childbearing years, which the census deems as women ages 40-44 who have not borne any children. Overall, 18% of women ages 40-44 have never given birth. How does this fit into the historical trends from the 70s? In 1976 10% of women ages 40-44 were childless. In 1980, the same. In 1990, 16%. In 2000, 19%. 2006, 20%. It took its biggest jump between 1980 and 1990, and since 2000 has hovered around 20%. Or as Pew Research put it, from 1976 to 2008 the proportion of women who have never given birth has grown by 80%!

While the Census does not track voluntary childlessness versus involuntary childlessness, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) does, but for a wide age range, 15-44. Researchers Joyce Abma and Gladys Martinez at the National Center for Health Statistics analyzed 2002 NSFG data, and focused on women aged 35-44 who were voluntarily childless (VC). They found that there are equal numbers of 40-44 women who are childless by choice and those who would like children but cannot have them: 6% were voluntarily childless, 6% involuntarily childless and 2% temporarily childless.

Why are more women not having kids? Access to contraception, delaying marriage and childbearing all play a big role. So do societal attitudes. Over the past few decades, data reflects that people have become more accepting of people without children. According to the Pew Research Center, a survey done by the National Opinion research Center’s General Social Survey project indicated that in 1988, 39% of adults disagreed that people without children “lead empty lives.” In 2002, 59% disagreed with this.

Public attitudes about children being central to a good marriage have also changed. A 2007 Pew study indicated that in 1990, 65% of adults said that children are very important for a successful marriage. In 2007, this figure dropped to 41 percent.

From what you see out there, do you think society is more accepting of the childfree choice? I tend to say yes, but only from afar…people still find it hard when it gets close to home, e.g., one’s daughter and son-in-law decide to be childfree and the parents don’t get to become grandparents.

Part II: New #s on the childless and the education channel…..

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