Childlessness in Europe

Michaela Kreyenfeld’s new book sheds light on current and historical drivers of childlessness.

A new book edited by Hertie School professor Michaela Kreyenfeld and Dirk Konietzka of the TU Braunschweig sheds light on the reasons for high levels of childlessness in Europe, and indicates that historical patterns may be on the verge of shifting in some countries. The open access book “Childlessness in Europe: Contexts, Causes, and Consequences” published on 23 January 2017 by Springer, addresses questions such as: Is a woman’s career orientation indeed the main driver of a life without raising children? How do partnership and job insecurity impact life-long childlessness? Do patterns differ by gender? How do they vary across countries? Is there a continuous upward trend in childlessness or are there any signs of a trend reversal? What are the consequences of childlessness in old age?

Childlessness is one of the many facets of demographic behavior that seems characteristic of post-modern societies. What is an ordinary demographic development has, however, been the subject of a rather polarised debate. Some scholars view childlessness as an outgrowth of pure egocentrism and individualism, and there are concerns that rising childlessness is threatening the foundations of national social security systems. Others have regarded childlessness as a consequence of gender-unequal societies that curb women’s opportunities after they become mothers. Taking this view, they have advocated a “childfree lifestyle”. But do these interpretations really explain recent trends in childlessness? 

A long-term perspective can help put today’s questions in context. High levels of childlessness may be seen as a typical of individualised modern societies. The truth is, however, that high childlessness has been widespread throughout human history. The book looks at the many reasons behind the trends, including, among others, career, family, education and economic influences.

Order the book here