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Childlessness at the end of life: evidence from rural Wales

  • G. CLARE WENGER (a1)

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.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: G. Clare Wenger, Tir Gwelyog, Gwaenysgor, Flintshire, Wales, LL18 6EW, United Kingdom. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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