Annoying Infant - Helpful Adult. Do Costs and Benefits of Children Change As Kids Get Older and What Does It Have to Do with Voluntary Childlessness?

Monika Mynarska, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University in Warsaw
Sylwia Timoszuk, Warsaw School of Economics

The aim of the paper is to deepen our knowledge on voluntary childlessness by exploring what costs and benefits of children are appreciated or neglected by women, who chose to have no offspring. We add to previous studies by taking the life-course approach. It has been shown that voluntarily childless women tend to describe themselves as lacking in maternal instinct, and as not being comfortable around infants. We expand these findings by looking at costs and benefits associated with different stages of a child’s life. Our main research questions are: What costs and benefits of children are perceived as important for women? What stages of the child’s life course are they related to? And how do these perceptions matter for women’s choice to remain childless?

We analyze a set of 55 in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted in Poland with childless women aged 31-42, that is at ages when the decisions for or against motherhood are taken. During the recruitment process, almost 70% of our interviewees declared that it is unlikely for them to become mothers, but they were characterized by different levels of childbearing motivation (measured with the Miller’s Childbearing Questionnaire). Such a composition of the sample allows us to contrast perspectives of those who wish to lead a childfree life with those, who remain childless due to various life-circumstances and those, who want to become mothers. Consequently, we are able to provide a rich account of how decision to remain childless is related to women’s perceptions of immediate as well as long-term costs and benefits of motherhood.


After a period of steady decline, levels of childlessness have been rising among recent cohorts in many developed countries (Sobotka 2017). And the discussion about the causes—as well as the consequences—of childlessness has been lively (Kreyenfeld and Konietzka 2017). Already since the early 1980s, scholars have generally agreed that voluntary childlessness has been increasing in modern societies, and is at least partially responsible for the recent decline in fertility (Bloom and Pebley 1982; Morgan 1991). Nonetheless, the motives that underlie the choice to remain childless are still not sufficiently understood (Langdridge, Sheeran et al. 2005; Park 2005).

The aim of our study is to expand and deepen our knowledge on voluntary childlessness by exploring the motives underlying it. In line with Miller’s approach (Miller 1995; Miller 2011), we define motives as individual predispositions to react favorably or unfavorably to various positive and negative consequences of childbearing. Thus, in order to understand voluntary childlessness, it is necessary to understand what costs and benefits of children are appreciated or neglected by women, who chose to have no offspring.

An important contribution of our study is that we recognize that values and costs of parenthood differ substantially depending on child''s age (Tanturri 2012; Nauck 2014). Previous studies have showed that voluntarily childless women tend to describe themselves as lacking in maternal instinct, and as being more comfortable around older children than around infants (Park 2005; Scott 2009). They seem to pay much attention to short-term, immediate consequences of motherhood. We expand these findings by looking at costs and benefits associated with different stages of a child’s life.

In the paper we seek to answer the following questions: What values and costs of children do women see and what stage of a child’s life course do they attach them to? Do they consider costs and benefits that come immediately after a childbirth? Or do they pay attention to the long-term consequences of motherhood? And—most importantly—how do these perceptions matter for women’s choice to remain childless?

We analyze a set of 55 in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted in Poland in 2014 with childless women aged 31-42, that is at ages when the decisions for or against motherhood are taken. The sample was heterogenous in terms of women’s marital status, education, and place of residence (big cities as well as small municipalities in three regions in Poland). The women were also characterized by different levels of childbearing motivation (measured with the Miller’s Childbearing Questionnaire, Miller 1995). At the same time, in the recruitment process, almost 70% of women in our sample declared that it is unlikely for them to become mothers. Such a composition of the sample allows us to contrast perspectives of those who wish to lead a childfree life with those, who remain childless due to various life-circumstances and those, who want to become mothers. Consequently, we will be able to provide a rich account of how decision to remain childless is related to women’s perceptions of immediate as well as long-term costs and benefits of motherhood.

Acknowledgments

This research has been funded by the National Science Centre (Poland), decision number DEC-2015/17/B/HS4/02086.

References

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Sobotka, T. (2017). Childlessness in Europe: Reconstructing Long-Term Trends Among Women Born in 1900–1972. Childlessness in Europe: Contexts, Causes, and Consequences. M. Kreyenfeld and D. Konietzka. Cham, Springer International Publishing: 17-53.

Tanturri, M. (2012). How Much Does a Child Cost Its Parents in Terms of Time in an Aged Society? An Estimate for Italy with Time Use Survey Data. The Family, the Market or the State? G. De Santis, Springer Netherlands. 100: 179-201.

Presented in Session 1157: Fertility