Childlessness in the UK

Publication type

Book Chapter


Ann Berrington

Publication date

Series Number

NO. 3


Levels of childlessness in Britain are higher than in many other European countries, with just under one in five British women currently reaching age 45 with no biological children of her own. This chapter provides new insights in two ways. First, by combining childbearing data from repeated rounds of the General Household Survey and the United Kingdom Household Panel Survey, the chapter examines how the educational gradient of childlessness has changed over birth cohorts. Second, the chapter investigates childlessness from a life course perspective among men and women born in 1970 who were followed up within the British Cohort Study. Focusing on cohort members who were childless at age 30, the relationship between fertility intentions expressed at age 30 and achieved childbearing by age 42 is examined. At age 42, the male and female respondents who remained childless were invited to give their reasons for remaining childless. Some reported that they did not have children “due to health reasons”, many more responded that they “did not ever want children”, while others said that they had “not met the right partner to have children with”. Only a few suggested that they “had been focused on their career”. We examine these responses in the context of the individuals’ partnership histories, and contribute to the debate on the question of whether the “perpetual postponement” of childbearing to later ages is acting to increase the proportion of the population who ultimately remain childless.


Demography, Education, Childbearing: Fertility and Life Course Analysis



Open Access