Are British Childless Adults Richer but Unhappier than Parents? Evidence from Bayesian Life Course Trajectories

Florianne Verkroost , Nuffield College, University of Oxford

It has often been suggested that childlessness is associated with lower subjective well-being (SWB) because of stress neglecting social expectations, social exclusion, lower sense of meaning, and the smaller likeliness of low-SWB individuals to find a mating partner. Further, while mothers often report lower economic well-being (EWB) than childless women because of career disruption and being discriminated as less committed (“motherhood wage penalty”), childless men usually report lower EWB than fathers because of lacking the “male breadwinner motivation” and perception of commitment (“fatherhood wage premium”). In terms of selection, while high-EWB women experience higher opportunity cost of children, low-EWB men struggle to find a mating partner. Not only is evidence for these hypotheses mixed due to differences in research designs, little is known about how SWB and EWB affect each other’s relationship with childlessness. We contribute by taking a Bayesian gendered life course perspective to examine what SWB and EWB differences co-exist between childless adults and parents and when these differences emerge in the life course. Using data from the 1970 British Cohort Study, we find that childless adults consistently report lower SWB than parents throughout the life course. Further, while fathers consistently report higher EWB than their childless counterparts, childless women have increasingly higher EWB than mothers but only from childbearing age onwards. Besides childlessness, differences in marital status, education, economic activity and general health by parental status affect these SWB and EWB differentials. We discuss possible explanations for our findings and provide further evidence for possible mechanisms.

See extended abstract

 Presented in Session 128. Childlessness