Report

Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees

  • June 25, 2010
  • By Gretchen Livingston and D'Vera Cohn

Nearly one-in-five American women ends her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-ten in the 1970s. While childlessness has risen for all racial and ethnic groups, and most education levels, it has fallen over the past decade for women with advanced degrees.

The most educated women still are among the most likely never to have had a child. But in a notable exception to the overall rising trend, in 2008, 24% of women ages 40-44 with a master's, doctoral or professional degree had not had children, a decline from 31% in 1994.

By race and ethnic group, white women are most likely not to have borne a child. But over the past decade, childless rates have risen more rapidly for black, Hispanic and Asian women, so the racial gap has narrowed. By marital status, women who have never married are most likely to be childless, but their rates have declined over the past decade, while the rate of childlessness has risen for the so-called ever-married -- those who are married or were at one time.

Among all women ages 40-44, the proportion that has never given birth, 18% in 2008, has grown by 80% since 1976, when it was 10%. There were 1.9 million childless women ages 40-44 in 2008, compared with nearly 580,000 in 1976.

This report is based mainly on data from the June fertility supplement of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The main comparisons use combined data from 2006 and 2008 (referred to in the report as "2008") and from 1992 and 1994 (referred to as "1994"). Two years of data are combined for each time point so as to have adequate sample size for detailed analysis. This report uses the standard measure of childlessness at the end of childbearing years, which is the share of women ages 40-44 who have not borne any children.1

Read the full report, Childlessness Up Among All Women; Down Among Women with Advanced Degrees on the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Web site.