Volume 45 - Article 10 | Pages 329–344  

Late motherhood, late fatherhood, and permanent childlessness: Trends by educational level and cohorts (1950–1970) in France

By Marie-Caroline Compans


Background: Postponement of first births and an increase in childlessness are significant trends across European countries. While educational differentials for motherhood are well documented, this is less true for fatherhood.

Objective: To compare late first birth and childlessness trends in men and women, across cohorts and by education.

Methods: The analysis relies on French administrative data from the 2016 Permanent Demographic Sample (EDP). Ages at first birth and shares of childlessness are computed by educational levels and between cohorts from 1950 to 1970.

Results: Across cohorts, higher-educated women tend to “catch up” after delaying first births, while lower-educated women more often remain childless. For men, there is a slight catch-up among the higher-educated group, especially in the most recent cohorts, but not enough yet to offset the increase in childlessness. Childlessness also remains particularly high among the lower-educated group of men.

Conclusions: Catching up after a delayed first birth is more frequent among men and especially women with more economic and social resources. While women are more biologically age-constrained than men are, social barriers may also prevent individuals from entering motherhood and fatherhood at late reproductive ages.

Contribution: The contribution of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it considers first births at late ages as an indicator of catching up following postponement of transition to parenthood. Secondly, the comparison of educational differences in men and women at late reproductive ages informs the discussion on gendered and social constraints on parenthood.

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