The Phenomenon of Childlessness in a Sociological and Demographic Perspective - Hana Hašková (ed.), Petra Šalamounová, Hana Víznerová, Lenka Zamykalová
The study examines the phenomenon of voluntary and involuntary childlessness, focusing in particular on its occurrence in Czech society. The aim of the study is to analyse childlessness (the current increase in the number of people who remain childless, the decline in fertility, and the postponement of childbearing) in Czech society in the context of a) how these phenomena are reflected professionally and in the Czech media, b) international demographic data on childlessness, and c) how these phenomena and childbearing are reflected by civic and lobbyist groups active on the issue of childlessness. The first chapter (introduction) points out the diversity of childlessness and of how it is studied and how it is perceived in society. The second chapter presents a) a summary of basic demographic data on childlessness in the Czech Republic, b) an analysis of professional discussions on the current increase in the number of childless people, the fertility decline and the postponement of childbearing in the Czech Republic (and in other Central and Eastern European countries), and c) the categorisation of theories used in research on these phenomena. It also outlines the gaps in research on childlessness in the Czech Republic and describes the conceptual model the authors of the study use in their research on childlessness. The third chapter contains a demographic analysis that compares, transversally and by generations, the basic characteristics of fertility and nuptiality in European countries. The demographic analysis concludes with a comparison of the percentage of women who remain childless in different European countries and the prognosis for future trends relating to childlessness in Europe. The fourth chapter presents a sociological analysis of a worldwide online discussion among voluntarily childless people, and it addresses two basic questions: How do voluntarily childless people view the majority of adults who are either parents or want to become parents in the future? And what types of ‘childfree’ people can be identified? The fifth chapter analyses and compares the image of biological childlessness and the image of low fertility presented in the Czech public media between 1994 and 2004, i.e. the years when total fertility rates in the country were lowest. The study ends with a summary of the main findings of the previous chapters.
childlessness, postponement of childbearing, fertility decline, voluntary childlessness, involuntary childlessness, Central and Eastern Europe
This volume of Sociological Studies introduces readers to the research project ‘The Phenomenon of Childlessness in the Context of Social Changes in Czech Society’. The aim of the research is to examine voluntary and involuntary childlessness. In this volume of Sociological Studies a broader theoretical framework for the study of childlessness, fertility decline, and the postponement of childbearing in Czech society is established.
In the introduction, Hana Hašková describes various forms of childlessness – for example, voluntary, involuntary, temporary, or completed (lifetime) childlessness, infertility, sterility, or childlessness based on cultural or social reasons. She also looks at the study of childlessness from the perspective of different scientific fields and argues that the direct or indirect effects on society of scientific reflections obtained in this kind of research are important. The diversity of childlessness, the study of childlessness, and its reflection in society are thus discussed. The author then introduces the individual chapters contained in this volume of Sociological Studies.
In the second chapter Hana Hašková maps out the basic demographic data on childlessness in Czech society and analyses the professional discourse surrounding the current rise in childlessness, the decline in fertility, and the postponement of childbearing in the Czech Republic and other Central and Eastern European states. She presents the basic theories and the methodological gaps in research on childlessness in Czech society and then highlights the path of possible further theoretical and methodological development in this field. The author identifies several basic dimensions to the professional discourse on the current rise in childlessness, decline in fertility, and postponement of childbearing in the Czech Republic and other states in the former Eastern block: the dimension of cultural and structural factors that affect these socio-demographic changes, the dimension of the positive and negative effects of the socio-economic and political transformations in the region under observation, the dimension of the similarities and differences in the values of relevant socio-demographic indicators in Europe, the dimension of the assessment of changes in reproductive behaviour as a crisis or transition, the dimension of individualism and collectivism in the framework of ‘solving’ the current changes in reproductive behaviour, and the dimension of change and stability in the scientific discourses on changes in reproductive behaviour. In the theoretical background to the professional discourse on the current rise in childlessness, fertility decline, and postponement of childbearing in Central and Eastern European countries the author identifies in particular the theory of individualization and cultural change, rational choice theory, and the theory of social anomy. She goes on to argue in favour of including other theoretical approaches in the research on the contemporary changes in reproductive behaviour in the region under observation, in particular the theory of social networks and the theory of gender equity. The methodological gaps in the research to date on childlessness in Czech society indicate mainly the inadequate use of qualitative and quantitative research approaches in combination, the existence of a division between retrospective studies and studies on future developments, and partially also the gender and generational blindness of the studies. There is also a brief illustration of the main research questions, the methodology, and the conceptual model used in the project ‘The Phenomenon of Childlessness in the Context of Social Changes in Czech Society’, the example of study that has attempted to fill in all the above-mentioned research gaps.
In the third chapter Petra Šalamounová places the research on childlessness and the related socio-demographic phenomena in Czech society in the context of how the values of various relevant demographic indicators of fertility and nuptiality have evolved over time in individual European countries, examined from a transversal and generational perspective. She makes a transversal comparison between European countries of a) the basic characteristics of first-time mothers, b) the fertility rate of first births, c) the structure of children born by birth order, and d) the total fertility rate. From a generational perspective she then compares a) the proportion of unmarried women and b) the completed fertility of women born in 1965. The author chose to combine the transversal and generational perspectives because while the first records the most recent trends in fertility it is not very useful in times of important demographic changes, and the second can be used in the given context only for generations that have completed reproduction. The analysis concludes with a comparison of the proportion of childless women in European countries and with a forecast of how the percentage of childless women in Europe will develop in the future. Special attention is given to identifying the position of the values of the relevant socio-demographic indicators in the Czech Republic in the context of Europe.
With regard to the age of the mother at the time of first birth the author observes that in 2000 there were substantial differences between the former Eastern block countries and other European countries. Specific to the Czech Republic and other Central and Eastern European countries are not only the relatively low transversal values of the first-birth fertility rate at an older age, which could be explained by the postponement of childbirth, but also the relatively high fertility rate among women at a young age. It is clear then that even though substantial changes occurred in the reproductive behaviour in the ‘East’ as it began to be more like the reproductive behaviour in the ‘West’, the reproductive behaviour of women in former Eastern block states still currently differs from that of other European women. On the other hand, no sharp dividing line between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ could be made with regard to the structure of children born by birth order. In this regard the states of Europe are becoming increasingly similar. According to selected demographic prognoses, in all European countries there will likewise be an increase in the percentage of lifetime childless women, most notably among the youngest generations of women studied to date (born in 1970 and 1975). However, prognoses indicate that lifetime childlessness among these women in the Czech Republic should still be at the lower end of the European average.
In the next chapter Hana Víznerová examines the views of a specific group (one usually difficult to access as a sufficiently large group) who have elected to remain childless in life. Her analysis looks at an internet discussion among people who have made the decision to remain childless and who in this virtual community primarily seek understanding from other people who have made a similar life decision. In the analysis the author identifies the topics that the participants – so-called ‘childfree’ people – raise and pursue in the discussion. The main thematic reference she observes is to selfishness and irresponsibility, not just on the part of voluntarily childless people (which is the view of the majority population in Euro-American society), but on the part of parents or people planning to have children. Another important topic is the intolerance expressed by parents and people planning to have children towards ‘childfree’ people. However, the author also uncovers intolerance on the part of ‘childfree’ people towards people who are parents. The analysis of other dominant topics in the internet discussion (gender relations, partnership and parenthood) exposes the norms and values of contemporary Euro-American society from the viewpoint of a marginalised group. The author concludes the chapter by presenting a typology of the ‘childfree’ people who contribute to the discussion, categorised by the reasons why they are childless, their views on children, and their views on the majority society.
In the final chapter Lenka Zamykalová first presents an analysis of the images of biological childlessness and of the low fertility and birth rates that are portrayed in the Czech media. She finds that the references in each of these two discourses to the other are limited. ‘Biological’ childlessness is described as a condition warranting pity and medical attention. It is only perceived as a social and political problem to the extent that it refers to the issue about paying for treatment from public health insurance. Conversely, the decline in fertility is defined as a serious social and political problem, and described in terms of blame, morality, and value hierarchies. Both discourses are conducted in the language of expertise – medical in the first and social-scientific in the second. And both debates are ‘feminised’, not (just) in the sense that there are more female than male authors in the debate, but (also) in the sense of how society defines childlessness as a woman’s problem.
In this volume of Sociological Studies research on childlessness, fertility decline, and the postponement of childbearing to a later age in the Czech Republic is framed in terms of its professional reflection and media image and is placed in the context of relevant international demographic data and in the context of the view in this area of active civic and lobbyist groups.
In Czech, with English abstract and summary. 153 p.