Research program : Childlessness

In her book "No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children", Corinne Maier puts into question the idealized notion of parenthood as a natural behavior. She asks her childless readers whether they are prepared to give up their time, money, and friends for the "vicious little dwarves" that will treat them like their servant and end up resenting them. In contrast to Corinne Maier, Jody Day, in her book "Living the Life Unexpected: 12 Weeks to Your Plan B for a Meaningful and Fulfilling Future Without Children", states that "Across the globe, millions of women are reaching their mid-forties without having had a child, (...) most didn't choose this and are silently struggling in a life they didn't foresee. Most people think that women who aren't mothers either couldn't have or didn't want children: the truth is much more complex." In the list of arguments and situations discussed in these two books for the general public, many speak to the theory of fertility as it has been developed since Malthus. In this research program, we apply the economic theory of fertility to the understanding of childlessness. We claim that analyzing who is more prone to not having babies, and - more importantly - why, is interesting in itself. Moreover, looking at this specific outcome may help to understand the motives behind fertility behavior in general. In other words, analyzing childlessness behavior helps to unravel the factors behind fertility behavior by adding an additional dimension to the reasoning. For example, if we believe that fertility dropped because of factor x, we may wonder whether what we observe in terms of childlessness also squares with this explanation. In technical terms, looking at childlessness in addition to fertility adds restrictions to properly identify the important factors.

Childlessness in Historical Data

Even in historical periods during which demographers would advance that childlessness is identical to sterility, we show that there are patterns which we can learn from. In particular, we build the case for an economic analysis of childlessness, arguing that childlessness varies both over time and across social classes, independently of the age at first marriage (which is often taken as a proxy for sterility). An unexpected high childlessness rate among the upper classes, which is found both in England and France before the Industrial Revolution, raises many questions about the incentives faced by the upper classes to have children.


Decessit sine prole - Childlessness, Celibacy, and Survival of the Richest in Pre-Industrial England, LSE Economic History Working Papers 276/2018 [with E. Schneider and J. Weisdorf]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | slides slides | homepage Schneider | homepage Weisdorf

Key Forces Behind the Decline of Fertility - Lessons from Childlessness in Rouen before the Industrial Revolution, Cliometrica, 13, 25–54 [with S. Brée]

teaser teaser | pdf article | bibtex citation | homepage Brée

Childlessness in Developing Countries

Developing countries today can also have high levels of childlessness. They are hidden behind general high fertility rates and the common idea that fertility is the result of ``mistakes'' and a lack of family planning. We show that childlessness can be caused by extreme poverty and therefore act as a kind of Malthusian preventive check. In practice, childlessness that results from poverty is due to malnutrition, stress, unhealthy environments, and venereal diseases leading to infections. We also evidence that poverty is not the only engine of childlessness in developing countries, since progress toward women's empowerment also drives childlessness.

The authors:
Paula, Thomas and I in Le Serre


Endogenous Childlessness and Stages of Development, Journal of the European Economic Association [with T. Baudin and P. Gobbi]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | appendix appendix | slides slides | data data | youtube video | youtube video | photo photo | bibtex citation | homepage Baudin | homepage Gobbi

L’expansion de l’éducation en Afrique annonce-t-elle sa transition démographique?, Dounia - revue d'intelligence stratégique et de relations internationales, 7, 33-50, 2014 [with P. Gobbi]

teaser teaser | pdf article | bibtex citation | homepage Gobbi

Childlessness in Developed Countries

Childlessness in developed countries is mostly the result of the high opportunity cost of time. As wages become higher, the cost of childcare also increases which reduces the incentives to have large families, and even to become a parent. Nevertheless, in countries like the US, poverty remains an important driver of childlessness, especially among single women.

In dynamic models, opportunity-driven childlessness is driven by postponement decisions. In such a set-up, for a given age, highly educated women are those enjoying the best economic opportunities, they thus have the strongest incentives to postpone their first birth. In cases where women are confronted to an especially positive series of economic opportunities, serial postponement may lead either to the inability to have children as fecundity recedes with age, or to the decision to remain childless.


Fertility and Childlessness in the United States, American Economic Review, 105, 1852-1882 [with T. Baudin and P. Gobbi]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | appendix appendix | slides slides | data data & code | blog blog | wiki wikipedia | bibtex citation | homepage Baudin | homepage Gobbi

Childbearing Postponement, its Option Value, and the Biological Clock, CEPR Discussion paper 12884 [with A. Pommeret]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | slides slides | photo photo | homepage Pommeret