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Lifetime Childlessness (Sep, 1999)
CHILDLESSNESS OF WOMEN AGED 45 YEARS OR MORE IN 1996, YEAR OF BIRTH
The high level of childlessness among those born in the early twentieth century is believed to be related to childlessness within marriage associated with avoidance of childbearing during the Great Depression, and family disruption due to the Second World War. Rates of childlessness were reduced among women who were in their reproductive years during a period of fifteen to twenty years after the Second World War. During this 'baby boom' period the proportion of women having children increased (Rowland 1998).
While Censuses can provide information on lifetime childlessness of women who began their reproductive life 30 years ago or more, lifetime childlessness among women who are younger can only be estimated. Women who are entering and passing through their reproductive years in the 1990s are being influenced by different social values and economic conditions, and thus their completed fertility may be substantially different.
Current levels of childlessness can be estimated (based on fertility of all women currently in the childbearing ages) by calculating how many women will have a first birth. Based on the 1996 Midwives Collection 72% of all women will have a first birth, therefore implying that 28% of women will not have children.
REASONS FOR CHILDLESSNESS
Involuntary childlessness mainly occurs in two ways. Firstly a woman, or her partner, may be infertile. It is estimated that around five to eight percent of couples in the developed world are unable to have children (cited in Webb and Holman 1992). However this can be overcome through adoption, or increasingly, through modern interventionist methods such as in-vitro fertilisation (Stephen 1999:2). Not being in a registered marriage may be another reason for involuntary childlessness. In Australia this reason was more important in the past than currently, with 29% of births in 1998 being ex-nuptial.
Voluntary childlessness can stem from a number of reasons. Baum (1994) identified from her studies four main categories of reasons given by women for their state of voluntary childlessness:
Hedonists - women who choose to remain childless through a desire to preserve their standard of living and who are unwilling to invest either their time or money in raising children.
Emotional - women who do not have emotional feelings for babies or children.
Idealistic - women who do not want to bring a child into a world they feel is unsuitable, or who do not want to contribute to overpopulation.
Practical - women who have a practical reason for being childless, such as desire to pursue their career, or a fear of passing on a genetic defect to their child.
Voluntary childlessness of a temporary nature may involuntarily become a permanent state. For example, women who delay their childbearing may find themselves unable, at a later age, to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. Using data on the 1965 marriage cohort in Germany, Schwarz (cited in Rowland 1998) calculated that 'almost all couples who have remained childless for about 10 years will remain childless for ever'.
CHARACTERISTICS OF CHILDLESS WOMEN - 1996 CENSUS
The childlessness may be influenced by both cultural and social factors, such as country of birth, Indigenous origin, religious affiliation and educational attainment.
Country of birth - While childlessness among Australian-born women, aged 45 years at the 1996 Census, was 11%, it was higher for women born in Japan (28%), Thailand (27%) and the United States of America (25%) and lower for women born in Portugal (3%) and Turkey, Greece, Taiwan and Croatia (4% each).
Indigenous women - Childlessness was three percentage points lower (8%) for Indigenous women than for their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Religious affiliation - Women recorded as having no religious affiliation showed the highest level of childlessness (16%); women of Islamic faith had the lowest (5%).
Educational attainment - Women attaining an undergraduate degree or higher level qualification were most likely to be childless (20%). For women who had no tertiary qualifications the proportion was 9%.
For further information and analysis on childlessness and births in general see Births, Australia, 1998 (Cat. no. 3301.0) released on 16 November 1999.
Baum, F. 1994, Choosing not to have children, Vol.2, No. 3, 22-25.
Rowland D. 1998, Cross-national Trends in Childlessness, Working Papers in Demography, No. 73, Australian National University Research School of Social Sciences.
Stephen E. 1999, Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Is the Price Too High?, Population Today, Vol. 27, No. 5, 1-8.
Webb S. and Holman D. 1992, A survey of infertility, surgical sterility and associated reproductive disability in Perth, Western Australia, Australian Journal of Public Health, Vol. 16, No. 4, 376-382.
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