Childlessness is something the US Census Bureau has never bothered to explore – until now. Those of us who have a keen interest in solo aging (adults over 55 without children and those aging alone for other reasons) have been aware for many years of the increase in childlessness among baby boomers. The repercussions of this increase in childlessness will have far-reaching implications for the health and well-being of aging baby boomers.
Is childlessness a problem?
For generations prior to the baby boomers, the average infertility rate hovered around 10%. This statistic primarily reflects the rate at which couples were infertile, for one reason or another. Nothing about infertility posed a problem for anyone other than couples who desperately wished they could have children. This was not a problem for society, as most people lived close to relatives at that time and if a childless woman or man managed to live long enough to need help, family support was rarely far away. .
Today’s reality is of course very different. People live much longer, and their chances of needing help and care later in life are much greater than those who lived in a time when a heart attack or stroke was almost always fatal. cancer treatment was less effective and less was known about the cause and treatment of diseases such as diabetes and COPD. In short, people just died younger. My father, for example, passed away over 30 years ago at the age of 75 from a post-surgical complication that can be corrected today. Medical science, better knowledge of nutrition, and healthier lifestyles are keeping significant numbers of people alive much longer, but it is having repercussions. most importantly, as a country we will be sorely lacking family caregivers.
When did parenthood become optional?
The increase in childlessness over the past three generations exacerbates the problem of the shortage of caregivers. It started with the baby boomers. One could call the increase in childlessness among baby boom women the result of a perfect storm in the waves of change that were occurring in the late sixties and throughout the seventies and eighties. twenty.
Prior to this time, there was little recognized resistance to the traditional roles of women: they married, had children, and if there was a need for time or money, they could also be teachers, nurses or secretaries. This scenario exploded for good, starting in the late 1960s with the initiative for equal rights for women. This has led to a political movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) through Congress and pass a growing number of laws prohibiting discrimination against women in any government-funded institution, mainly women. universities and large companies. Soon the doors to prestigious educational institutions that trained doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and scientists opened wide and invited women (though often reluctantly) to apply. Subsequently, hiring managers were forced to bring in the products of these schools and women found themselves introduced into what had previously been almost exclusively the domain of their male counterparts.
With all the new opportunities at their fingertips, huge numbers of women have decided that motherhood (and sometimes marriage too) will not be part of their future. In addition to new professional opportunities, these women of childbearing age in the 1970s and 1980s also had a brand new weapon in their arsenal, one that their mothers and grandmothers did not have: THE PILL. For the first time in history, women could take full control of their reproductive system. Those who chose to avoid motherhood could still have an active sex life if they wanted to and not run the risk of ending up in the family, by accident.
Fast forward to the 2020s, and the women (boomers) who have decided not to have children are now in their 50s, 60s and 60s. In addition, they have male counterparts, who also determined, alone or with their partner, that they would not have children. Today they are in many different relationships and financial situations. The US Census Bureau, supported in part by the National Institute of Aging, has just (August 2021) published a report on the childless elderly population, which includes baby boomers and those slightly older. Here are some of their findings:
- Among adults aged 75 and over (not baby boomers), 10.9% reported being childless; among the 65-74 year olds (first baby boomers), 15.9% said they were childless; and among 55-64 year olds (late boomers), 19.6% said they were childless.
- Adults without children as a group were more educated than parents. About 38.4% have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 30.0% of parents. At the lowest level of education, 34.5% of adults without children have a high school diploma or less, compared to 43.3% of parents. In addition, a greater proportion of adults without children aged 55 and over were in the labor force, 43.7% compared to 40.1% of parents.
- Among adults without children aged 55 and over, 85.2% were white alone; 79.0% were non-Hispanic whites; 9.2% were black people alone; 3.4% were Asian alone; 2.2% were all other breeds or reported more than one breed; and 6.5% were Hispanic (of any race).
- About 22.1 million adults aged 55 and over reported living alone, including 6.1 million without children. This means that 27.7% of the elderly living alone did not have children. Childlessness was more common among older men living alone than among older women; 34.3% of senior men and 23.6% of senior women living alone did not have children.
- Living alone is more common among older people without children than among their counterparts who were parents. About 62.5% of parents 55 and over lived with a spouse, compared to 40.2% of older adults without children.
- Poverty rates are higher among older people without children than among older parents. About 12.4% of adults without children had family incomes below the poverty line. Among parents, a greater proportion of mothers had family incomes below the poverty line (10.5%) than fathers (7.5%).
It is important to note that for this to study, the operational definition of “childless” corresponds to people who declared no biological children, while “parents” were defined as those who declared have biological children. Therefore, those who adopted and raised children are still counted as childless and those who have borne children that they did not raise are considered parents.