As the childlessness rate among women grows and more couples have fewer children, the effects of ageing without children on an individual’s health and wellbeing are being looked at more closely.  Not surprisingly, the childless are more likely to age alone.  And recent demographic changes mean more and more people will be doing so.

One recent study attempts to better understand the consequences of ageing alone in later life by using subjective wellbeing as the outcome of interest and documenting the presence and strength of parents’ relationships with their children, rather than simply treating parenthood and childlessness as a dichotomy.

The study finds that overall parents report a higher subjective wellbeing than their childless counterparts.  However, parents who have infrequent contact with their children report lower levels of subjective wellbeing than people who have remained childless, perhaps indicating the stress an unhappy relationship causes.  However, geographical distance from children did not seem to matter.

The highest subjective wellbeing in both men and women was found in those who had three or more children and were in contact with all of them.  Those who had weekly contact with their children had even higher subjective wellbeing levels.

Parents with three or more children had the highest average subjective wellbeing level overall as well, but only marginally.  The difference in subjective wellbeing between parents with two rather than one child was more substantial – surprisingly even more substantial than between those with one child and the childless. 

The study authors felt the difference in wellbeing between the different groups was statistically important, and informs how society might change in the near future.  The other take away point was that resolving conflict within families is worth it.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...