Childless men are more numerous than childless women, and worse off
Why don't they just adopt? There are so many kids out here in the world that need a good, stable home with at least one parent. One parent is better than none.
My suspicion is many of these childless men have other issues like alcoholism, drug addiction, chronic pain, underemployment/unemployment, criminal convictions/jail time, psychological difficulties, or undiagnosed autism, that make forming relationships especially difficult for them. Women have lower incidences of these problems- 90% of the prison population are men, schizophrenia has a earlier age of onset in men compared to women, and autism has a 4:1 gender skew in favor of men, whether low or high functioning. About 12% of men over the age of 12 struggle with drug addiction, compared to only 6% of women. I'd be curious to see or find a study asking these men how many close friends they have, because my suspicion again is that these men are very isolated. I dont blame these guys, and I'm sympathetic to their struggles, but I think we're missing a piece of the puzzle as to why they're alone. Whether women are right to not even give these men the time of day or whether they're being unfairly judgemental because these men don't fit their "type" or who they expected they'd date or marry, is an unanswered question in modern dating and relationships. I imagine the guy who has numerous violent felonies isn't a great guy, but some of those guys who are dedicated to improving their life or maintaining sobriety may be fine, albeit a bit different than your typical guy.
Very interesting piece. I'm particularly fascinated by this:
"Strikingly, the negative impact of entering older age without children seems to be more significant for men. Childless older women have higher net wealth than any other group, and considerably more than childless older men ($174,000 v. $133,000), and better self-reported health than other groups:"
Childless older SINGLE women, at least to me, are most likely making very deliberate, conscious choices that they DONT want children. Among my friends, I see this strong decision to NOT have children, most likely because these women know that the brunt of childcare will fall on them.
On the other hand, many of the men I know who are childless aren't as convicted about their decision to have children or not (again, maybe b/c it comes from a place of privilege that they dont have to worry about taking care of the child).
Is the data also adjusting for single vs in a relationship? What is the effect?
Also, are there generational differences driving the fortunes of childless men of a certain age that may or may not be true of the men growing up today?
If one could find a group of older men who grew up in a less gendered community (where the man’s main role isn’t only to work outside the home) such that their was a higher rate of participation in running the household and where men doing the nurturing was normalised would their fortunes be different?
I’m reminded of the saying “women mourn and men replace” and have seen men in their 70’s and 80’s who are very keen, desperate even, to marry women for companionship yes, but also for someone to take care of them. Childless men also don’t have the option of children to take care of them.
Perhaps I’m over-simplifying in reaching for a possible cause.
The filtering mechanism must have some impact here. Many of the men who end up childless in todays society will tend to be men priced out of the dating market: physically less attractive, less income, less status and thus options basically. Women who end up childless in todays society will tend be women who priced themselves out of the dating market: high income, but hypergamy didn't allow her to "settle for less than what she deserves". Its two very different starting points. The former is more forced, the latter more optional.
Glad to see you flagging this topic for follow up. I wonder how risk-taking plays into the outcome disparities between childless men and women. As I understand it, men, on average, are more impulsive and tend to take riskier risks than women. Is this tendency tempered in fathers? Do childless men continue to be riskier and more impulsive in later stages than fathers?
I’m one of those childless gay men, and while I and my partner have deliberately chosen to not pursue fatherhood, I do see how childlessness can contribute to the general loneliness and and purposeless many men feel. I sometimes feel like men have a harder time “self starting” connection and meaning, and having children can be one of those external factors that bring immense value to life.
I'm pretty sure it's worse than than it appears. Those stats don't capture the reality that, after divorce, many fathers & children are cut off from each other.
It's topical here in Australia because of some family law changes just last week: https://bettinaarndt.substack.com/p/parliament-votes-for-more-fatherless
Very interesting data. Is there any source of how this sex ratio of childless male and female is evolving per year in any country? This would be like the GINI coefficient of inequality. I would bet that this sex ratio is increasing in recent 50 years paralleling the decrease in marriages
If you look at data from population genetics and the structures of individuals' DNA, the proportion of men having children has always been lower than that of women. Indeed, this observation explains why each of us has almost twice as many female as male ancestors. [As odd as that sounds, that is what the data say, a much higher proportion of men never have children.]
It’s hard not to see childless men through an economic and demographic lens. Fertility rates are trending down globally. There are valid reasons to be anxious about bringing children into the world in its current state. We aren’t exempt from the rules of population biology. Anna Louie Sussman recently wrote in the Atlantic how many women report freezing their eggs because they are struggling to find a male co-parent. It isn’t hard to envision a world where being childless is as common as being unmarried. I’m interested in why so many men are failing to thrive whether they have children or not. I believe it’s related to the sheer number of simultaneous inflection points we are at in our economic, political and ecological systems.
Perhaps childless men need descendants more in societies where they lack adult friends more than women do? They need some connection to the future...
Is a man considered childless if he has sired none but has stepchildren? Asking for a friend….
Thank you for this. I totally agree with:
"For every one of those there are likely many more who just don’t manage to find the right person or the right time to become a parent. That’s a very different thing. And it looks like it might be especially corrosive for men to end up on a bare branch of their family tree."
Thank you for delving into this topic. Just reading your piece conjures up ideas, hypotheses, anecdotes, recollections--a whole uncharted wilderness of unstructured and unmeasured human experience and behavior. This seems to me to be a consequence of the unaddressed issues in the development of boys in the modern world about which you have a good start--and a long ways to go.
Some possible explainers of the "more advantageous position" of childless older women compared to men (*these are just my intuitive thoughts; I have no research data to point to).
- these childless women will likely include a lot of 'career women' who have positively prioritised career success over motherhood.
- it is my impression that older men feel the need a woman in their life in order to thrive to a much greater extent than older women do
- the childless men will perhaps include many who have just been generally unsuccessful with women (for whatever reason). I have written recently on my own Substack on the huge difference in the intra-sexual fortunes of both sexes (but there is- so I believe - social science research evidence that the divergence between most-and-least-successful is especially great in the case of men) https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/the-less-desired