Lifelong childlessness in England and Wales Evidence from the ONS Longitudinal Study

Martina Portanti, Simon Matthew Whitworth


Previous research on childlessness suggests that childless women differ from those with children mainly in terms of their attitudes and values. In the literature, mixed evidence exists regarding how distinctive childless women are in terms of their socio-economic characteristics. Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Longitudinal Study (LS) is used for the first time to investigate the personal and household characteristics of women born between 1956 and 1960 in relation to their lifelong fertility outcomes. Logistic regression techniques are used to model the probability of lifetime childlessness based on a number of women’s and their partners’ socio-economic characteristics at various key ages during women’s life-course. Single women are the most likely to be childless and married women are least likely to be childless. For those with partners, childless women are more often in “non-traditional” partnership, including cohabitations, and tend more often to have wider age gaps with their partners. In terms of women’s own characteristics, the economically active are more likely to be childless and childless women have a slightly higher social and economic status as compared to mothers. Childlessness is often associated with presence of a limiting long term illness and a lack of any siblings in childhood. Using administrative and Census records available in the LS, it is possible to provide robust statistical evidence that childless women appear to be a distinctive group in terms of key socio-economic characteristics. This analysis also shows the potential of the LS to be used more frequently for quantitative research on childlessness alongside other survey data sources. Keywords:


Childlessness, fertility, ONS Longitudinal Study, women, England and Wales, longitudinal research

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