Childless Expectations and Childlessness Over the Life Course.
Using nineteen panels of the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY-79), we construct life-lines characterizing women's childless expectations and fertility behavior. One-quarter of women in the NLSY-79 cohort ever reported an expectation for childlessness but only 14.8 percent of women remain childless. Childless women follow two predominant life course paths: (1) repeated postponement of childbearing and the subsequent adoption of a childless expectation at older ages or (2) indecision about parenthood signaled through vacillating reports of childless expectations across various ages. We also find that more than one in ten women became a mother after considering childlessness: an understudied group in research on childlessness and childbearing preferences. These findings reaffirm that it is problematic to assign expected and unexpected childlessness labels to the reproductive experience of childless women. In addition, despite their variability over time, childless expectations strongly predict permanent childlessness, regardless of the age when respondents offer them. Longitudinal logistic regression analysis of these childless expectations indicates a strong effect of childbearing postponement among the increasingly selective group of childless women. However, net of this postponement, few variables commonly associated with childlessness are associated with reports of a childless expectation. We thus conclude that the effects of socio-demographic and situational factors on childless expectations are channeled predominantly through repeated childbearing postponement.
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