NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 28, 2010

Nearly one in five American women in her early 40s is childless, according to a report that shows a striking increase in women who don't have biological children.  The trend was much less common in the 1970s, when one in 10 women did not have children by ages 40 to 44, the age bracket researchers use to designate the end of childbearing years.

The report, released last week by the Pew Research Center, cites social and cultural shifts behind the change, including less pressure to have children, better contraceptive measures and expanded job opportunities for women. 

Although the trend largely held true across races, ethnicities and education levels, one exception was among women with advanced degrees -- a master's or higher -- who were more likely to give birth: 

  • In 1994, 31 percent were childless in their 40s.
  • In 2008, 24 percent were.  

The Pew report shows that the shift was opposite for women with less than a high school diploma: 

  • In 1994, 9 percent of that group was childless.
  • In 2008, that figure was 15 percent -- an increase of 66 percent, says the report, which notes general trends in delaying marriage and childbearing.  

Overall, the report found that white women are more likely to be childless, as are women with more education.  The analysis, based largely on census data, comes amid changing attitudes about women who do not have children. 

The number of women without biological children is much larger than it once was, with 1.9 million childless women in 2008, compared with 580,000 in 1976. 

The Pew study explored biological childbearing and did not touch on whether women had adopted children or stepchildren. 

Source: Donna St. George, "Number of childless American women in their 40s has risen sharply since 1970s," Washington Post, June 25, 2010. 

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