Skip to main content
×
×
Home

Childlessness at the end of life: evidence from rural Wales

  • G. CLARE WENGER (a1)
Abstract

After the spouse, children are the most likely source of informal support for an older person when the frailties of advanced old age create the need for help. Childlessness may thus be seen as particularly a problem for older people. In general, to compensate for the lack of children, childless people develop closer relationships with available next-of-kin and non-kin. Despite this, in times of need they are likely to find themselves with inadequate informal support. Using data from the Bangor Longitudinal Study of Ageing, this article explores the consequences of childlessness among persons aged 85 years or more living in rural Wales. The results indicate that by the time they reach old age, childless people have adapted to their situation and developed expectations consistent with being childfree. They have closer relationships with collateral kin, friendships are important and a high value is placed on independence. Nevertheless, unless they die suddenly or after a short acute illness, almost all of them enter residential care or a long-stay hospital at the end of their lives. It is also shown that the situation of childless people varies greatly and depends on several factors, particularly marital status, gender, social and financial capital, and on the person's earlier investment in the strengthening of next-of-kin and non-kin networks.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: G. Clare Wenger, Tir Gwelyog, Gwaenysgor, Flintshire, Wales, LL18 6EW, United Kingdom. E-mail: gcwenger@btinternet.com
References
Hide All
Chapman, N. J. 1989. Gender, marital status, and childlessness of older persons and the availability of informal assistance. In Peterson, M. D. and White, D. L. (eds), Health Care of the Elderly: An Information Sourcebook. Sage, London, 277328.
Chappel, N. L. and Badger, M. 1989. Social isolation and well-being. Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, 44, 3, S169–76.
Choi, N. G. 1994. Patterns and determinants of social service utilization: comparisons of the childless elderly and elderly parents living with or apart from their children. The Gerontologist, 34, 3, 353–62.
Connidis, I. A. and McMullin, J. A. 1992. Getting out of the house: the effect of childlessness on social participation and companionship in later life. Canadian Journal on Aging/Revue Canadienne du Vieillissement, 11, 1, 370–86.
Dykstra, P. A. 1995. Network composition. In Knipscheer, C. P. M., de Jong Gierveld, J., van Tilburg, T. G. and Dykstra, P. A. (eds), Living Arrangements and Social Networks of Older Adults. VU University Press, Amsterdam, 97114.
Jerrome, D. and Wenger, G. C. 1999. Stability and change in late-life friendships. Ageing & Society, 19, 1, 661–76.
Kivett, V. A. and Learner, M. 1980. Perspectives on the childless rural elderly: a comparative analysis. The Gerontologist, 29, 6, 708–16.
Mugford, S. and Kendig, H. L. 1986. Social relations: networks and ties. In Kendig, H. L. (ed.), Ageing and Families: A Social Networks Perspective. Allen and Unwin, Boston, Massachusetts, 3859.
O'Bryant, S. L. 1985. Neighbors' support of older widows who live alone in their own homes. The Gerontologist, 25, 3, 305–10.
Pickard, S. 1995. Living on the Front Line: A Social Anthropological Study of Old Age and Ageing. Avebury, Aldershot, UK.
Rubinstein, R. L., Alexander, B. L., Goodman, M. and Luborsky, M. 1991. Key relationships of never-married, childless older women: a cultural analysis. Journal of Gerontology, 46, 5, S270–7.
Strain, L. A. and Payne, B. J. 1992. Social networks and patterns of social interaction among ever-single and separated/divorced elderly Canadians. Canadian Journal on Aging Aging/Revue Canadienne du Vieillissement, 11, 1, 3153.
Townsend, P. 1957. The Family Life of Old People. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
Wenger, G. C. 1984. The Supportive Network: Coping with Old Age. George Allen and Unwin, London.
Wenger, G. C. 2001. Ageing without children: rural Wales. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 16, 1, 79109.
Wenger, G. C. and Burholt, V. 2001. Differences over time in older people's relationships with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews in rural North Wales. Ageing & Society, 21, 5, 567–90.
Wenger, G. C., Dykstra, P., Melkas, T. and Knipscheer, C. P. M. 2007. Social embeddedness and late life parenthood: community activity, close ties and support networks. Family Issues, 28, 11, 1419–56. (Special issue, Part 2, Multiple Meanings of Childlessness in Late Life: Findings from Seven Societies).
Wenger, G. C., Scott, A. and Patterson, N. 2000. How important is parenthood? Childlessness and support in old age in England. Ageing & Society, 20, 2, 161–82.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
  • URL: /core/journals/ageing-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Keywords

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed