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The wellbeing of childless men and fathers in mid-life


Using data from the first wave of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study conducted in 2002–03, this paper examines the economic, psychological and social wellbeing among 1,467 men aged 40–59 years with different parenthood histories and circumstances: the childless, fathers who live with their children, non-co-resident fathers, and ‘empty-nest fathers’. The gerontological interest is whether there are variations in wellbeing by parenting, and whether they persist in old age. The results showed that fathers have higher incomes than childless men, regardless of their partner history. As regards psychological wellbeing, men's partner history counts, not their parenthood status. Being single contributes to low levels of psychological wellbeing. The findings provide evidence of the socially integrating effects of parenthood and for men's ‘good-provider’ role. Childless men and non-co-resident fathers report poorer quality family relationships. In addition, childless men were least likely to report helping others in the community. Overall, more support is found for the notion that fatherhood is a transforming event than that the wellbeing benefits derive from fathering activities. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of the findings for inequalities in wellbeing and informal support among the male members of the cohort born during 1943–63 when they reach old age.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Pearl A. Dykstra, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, PO Box 11650, NL-2502 AR The Hague, The Netherlands. E-mail:
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Ageing & Society
  • ISSN: 0144-686X
  • EISSN: 1469-1779
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