Where have all the children gone? Reports of increasing childlessness in a large-scale continuous household survey

Michael Murphy, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Reported childlessness by women in later life from the 1940 to 1955 birth cohorts in the British General Household Survey are analysed. Levels of childlessness reported by the same cohort of women increase with age by over 50% between their early 40s and their late 50s. However reported cohort mean fertility of parous women remains constant with increasing age. Similar results hold within sub-groups such as those in different educational and marital status groups. Possible reasons for such differences are discussed, including non-comparability over time due to differential migration, mortality or institutionalisation and changes in the survey design and content are inadequate explanations. It is concluded that the most likely reason is due to deliberate under-reporting of childbearing among older cohorts of women. The implications of these results for the interpretation of retrospective data in surveys and for availability of informal care for older people are considered.

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Presented in Session 39: Childlessness in developed countries