Defining Childlessness Among Middle-Aged and Older Americans: A Research Note

Xiao Xu*, Jersey Liang, James M. Raymo, Borin Kim, Mary Beth Ofstedal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Article peer-review

1 Scopus citations


Measuring childlessness is complicated by the increasing complexity of family structure. Using data from the 2014 Health and Retirement Study, in this research note we compared three defnitions of childlessness: (1) respondent never fathered/gave birth to a child, (2) respondent had no children who were living and in contact, and (3) respondent and spouse/partner had no children or stepchildren who were living and in contact. Results showed that the prevalence of childlessness among Americans aged 55 or older ranged from 9.2% to 13.6% depending on which defnition was used. The association between select individual characteristics (gender and marital status) and the likelihood of childlessness, as well as the association between childlessness and loneliness and living arrangements, also varied depending on how childlessness was defned. Therefore, how we defne childlessness can affect our understand ing of its prevalence, correlates, and relationships with well-being. Future research on childlessness should carefully consider the choice of defnition and its implications for research and policy discussions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)813-826
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - 01 06 2022

Bibliographical note

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© 2022 The Authors.


  • Childlessness
  • Living arrangements
  • Loneliness
  • Middle age
  • Old age


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