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Childlessness and intergenerational transfers: what is at stake?


In this introductory article for the special issue on Childlessness and Intergenerational Transfers, we first discuss the prior research literature and then overview the presented contributions. Up to now, childless older adults have been treated for the most part as both homogeneous and a problematic group. This does not do justice to the different pathways to childlessness: there are those who actively forgo having children, those who defer births so long that they involuntarily become childless, and those who are not fecund or lack a partner. It also neglects the changing social profile of the childless, e.g. the shift from less educated to more highly-educated women. Most importantly, it fails to recognise what childless older people give to others. The studies presented here aim to redress these two deficits in previous research. They examine how the consequences of childlessness are mediated by the pathways to and motivations for being childless and by factors such as gender, education and marital history, and they also examine what childless older adults provide to their families and to society at large. Such adults establish strong linkages with next-of-kin relatives, invest in non-family networks, and participate in voluntary and charitable activities, and broadly do so to a greater extent than older people with surviving children.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Martin Kohli, Department of Social and Political Sciences, European University Institute, Via dei Roccettini 9, I-50014 San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy E-mail:
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