Trends in first childbirth Number of children born

3 Trends in childlessness

An interesting question is how a continued postponement of first childbirth will affect the number of women that remain childless. The first Norwegian cohorts that adopted new patterns of fertility, with postponement of first childbirth, were born early in the 1950s. For these women we observe a 10 per cent level of childlessness at the age of 45 (Table 1), which is very low by international standards.


Today we can follow cohorts born until 1958 to age 40, of which 12.3 per cent were childless. It is still too early to draw a conclusion about the consequences of the new fertility pattern on childlessness in younger cohorts. Meanwhile, we can make some assumptions by looking at childlessness around the age 35. For the 1958 cohort 15.2 per cent were childless when they turned 35, while it was 16.5 per cent among the 1963 cohort. It is likely that some of these women born in 1963 will enter into motherhood in the years to come more frequently than their five-year-older sisters. However, the possibility of those younger cohorts ending their fertile period with a childless rate below 10 per cent, like women born between 1930 and 1950, seems very doubtful.

    Figure 5:
    Childlessness by birth cohort and education level

The proportion of childless women is highest among those at the highest education level. For women with a high-level university education born between 1954 and 1958, almost 19 per cent were childless at age 40. For women in the same cohorts with no education beyond compulsory level the proportion was less than 10 per cent. The proportion of childlessness has been relatively stable, but different, for women with different educational levels from the 1935 cohort to the 1958 cohort. We do, however, observe a slight convergence between educational groups. The level of childlessness among women at the lowest educational level has increased among younger cohorts. Contradictory to this, younger cohorts at the highest educational level have a lower level of childlessness than we observe for cohorts born some decades ago. Even though more women get more education than before, the postponed pattern of first childbirth provides women the opportunity to establish themselves in the labour market before having children. There can be different explanations for the low level of childlessness among younger women with high degrees compared to older women at the same educational level. One explanation might be that changes in family policy in the 1990s were successful in making it easier to combine labour market participation with childcare. Another explanation is that women with a high university degree is a small group in all cohorts, but are probably more selected among the oldest generation than among today's young women.


Trends in first childbirth Number of children born

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New fertility trends in Norway
Trude Lappegård
© 2000 Max-Planck-Gesellschaft ISSN 1435-9871