Childlessness in the West since the demographic transition: theories, facts, and speculations

Jan Van Bavel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

In a context of below-replacement fertility, ups and downs in the birth rate are highly sensitive to the number of people that remain childless. Yet, the apparent lack of data and small number of publications on childlessness are striking. This paper reviews theories and empirical research about the evolution of childlessness in the West since the modern demographic transition. First, it takes issue with the theory that the long-term evolution of childlessness follows a U-shaped course, reflecting the relationship between the level of economic development and childlessness. Second, it investigates the covariates of childlessness on the individual level. Particular attention is paid to differences and similarities between the first and the second demographic transition. The paper concludes with suggestions for future research.

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Presented in Session 50: Open forum 2