Changing Educational Patterns of Childlessness in the United Kingdom- A Comparison of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland

Bernice Kuang , University of Southampton
Sarah Christison , University of St Andrews
Joanne Ellison , University of Southampton
Hill Kulu , University of St Andrews
Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton

Levels of childlessness in the United Kingdom (UK) are relatively high within Europe: around one in five women remain childless at age 45. Historically, a positive educational gradient of childlessness in the UK widened across cohorts born between 1940 and 1969 (Berrington, Stone et al. 2015). Despite having similar childbearing desires in their teenage years, childlessness among the 1958 cohort was twice as likely for women with a degree, compared to the least educated (Berrington and Pattaro 2014). This paper contributes to our understanding of childlessness in two ways. Firstly, family size distributions are not published by the national statistical offices for either Scotland or Northern Ireland. Thus, we do not know how many women remain childless in these regions. This paper provides the first estimates of childlessness and its educational pattern across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. This is important to understand because overall fertility rates in the UK have diverged markedly across countries since the 1980s, and the roles of both childlessness and its educational patterns are unclear. Secondly, we update existing research to examine whether the educational gradient of childlessness has changed. In recent decades in the Nordic countries, declining fertility has been driven by increasing childlessness among the least educated, such that the educational gradient of childlessness has shifted from positive to negative (Jalovaara, Andersson et al. 2021). In this paper, we examine whether similar changes are relevant in the UK and whether they may be driving some of the cross-national differences in overall fertility.

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 Presented in Session 47. Educational attainment and fertility