This thesis reveals the complexities in older men’s experience of involuntary childlessness. Research literature on both involuntary childlessness and ageing has highlighted the paucity of material on men’s experience. The aim of this study was to explore and understand the impact of childlessness on the lives of older, self-defined, involuntarily childless men.
This qualitative study employed a pluralistic framework formed by life course and biographical, and gerontological approaches to explore the lives of 14 men, aged between 49 and 82 years. A broad thematic analysis was applied, and the findings demonstrated the intersections between childlessness, ageing and social structures, over the life course. The men’s attitude to fatherhood changed with age and centred on the theme of the ‘social clock’ that revealed the synergy between an individual and societal morès surrounding parenthood. The loss of the assumed father role and relationship ebbed and flowed throughout the men’s lives in a form of complex bereavement. Awareness of feeling both a sense of ‘outsiderness’ and a fear of being viewed as a paedophile were widely reported. Quality of life was linked with current health, and ageing was strongly associated with loss of physical or mental functionality.
This thesis challenges research that reports men are not affected by the social, emotional and relational aspects of involuntary childlessness. In doing so it adds to the debate surrounding masculinities. Recommendations are made in the conclusion regarding the use of the findings for both future research and policy.
The rationale for this study originates from the researcher's previous study, which explored the yearning for parenthood in men (broodiness). Included in the effects were depression, anxiety, and social isolation. One of the central issues raised from the previous study was to find the prevalence of male broodiness. This led to an investigation to assess the level of the desire for parenthood in childless men compared to non-parents and parents. There is little research on this desire for fatherhood. What exists is mostly derived from studies of couples in infertility treatment, fathers to be, or those who are already fathers. Therefore literature surrounding fatherhood, masculinity, intention to parent, and the few works on childless, were examined.
In order to examine the issues surrounding the desire for parenthood a sequential mixed-methods quantitative-qualitative approach was selected. This approach allows the verification of results, generation of new areas of interest, and provides generalisabilty of results. An on-line questionnaire was designed to measure the influences, motivations, and reasons that may affect the decision to parent. Included was a unique item attempting to measure the reactions associated with broodiness. Open questions were integrated into the survey to provide detail of the respondent’s life experience and, in addition, aid validity by providing feedback on the survey. Respondents were recruited by a snowball technique and over two hundred completed replies (n=232) were analysed using descriptive, univariate, and bivariate techniques. The profile of the sample data gave a mode of female with the majority of respondents being White-British, degree educated, professional, and heterosexual.
The results revealed that a higher number of childless men desired parenthood (51.9%) than did not (25.9%). Non-parents showed similar levels of desire for parenthood, with females indicating slightly more than males. Female and male parents demonstrated an equal desire not to repeat parenthood. The decision against parenthood for non-parents showed economic and social factors as the main influences. For the parent group, health, and age were the main influences. Cultural and family expectations were common influences, for both non-parents and parents, as influences on parenthood. Females indicated personal desire against the male's cultural and societal expectations. Similarities between the two groups included the items 'feel parent-child bond' and 'give love and affection'. Parents highlighted 'receive love and affection' and 'improve on my childhood experience'. Non-parents reported 'I do want a child' and 'children complete a relationship' as reasons. 'Yearning' was the item most associated with the broodiness item. Non-parents were more affected by 'Yearning', ‘Sadness’, and 'Depression' compared to parents. Females from both groups had mostly similar response levels, with non-parent females indicating higher responses in 'Isolation' and 'Sadness'. Male non-parents had the highest reactions to 'isolation' and 'depression'.
The study has shown that not only do some childless men indicate a desire for parenthood comparable to childless women, but that they may also suffer similar or higher levels of depression and isolation as a consequence.
The rationale for this study stems from the researchers experience of counselling male clients who were affected by their childless state. This led to an exploration of the issues surrounding the yearning for parenthood in men entitled 'Involuntarily childless men: Issues surrounding the desire to be a Father.' With little existing information on the experience of childlessness for men, literature surrounding infertility, fatherhood, social issues and health was examined. The majority of that research is based on couples undergoing infertility treatment and records the effects of that process on their physical, mental, and social inter-actions. Included in the effects were depression, anxiety, and social isolation.
In order to provide an insight to the lived experience of childless men who desire fatherhood, a qualitative methodology - grounded theory - was selected. This approach allows codes and themes to emerge from the data and categorised to form a theory. The ‘emergent’ concept of the method suited the lack of available data and allows the participant’s story to be retained using verbatim dialogue extracts. Ten respondents to a poster invitation were individually interviewed and the interviews transcribed and analysed. All ten had suffered from depression with eight reporting that childlessness was a feature in their depression to a lesser or greater extent. The participants ranged in age from 33 to over 60 years and all identified as white-western, biologically childless men.
The analysis findings generated six categories: a core category of ‘Lifescape's of Childless Men: Enduring Anticipation and Expectation in an Uncharted World' and five main categories of Consequences of Childlessness, Ideation, Relationships, Socio-environmental and Health. The attitude to childlessness was related to their life stage; younger men were aware of the unknown but feared responsibility, the older ones more regretful of an opportunity denied or not utilised. Poor experience in formative familial relationships affected all subsequent relationships and for those in relationships, their partners were of great significance. Charting the desire for children indicated a peak in the thirties and that gradually reduced but did not disappear. Fatherhood was seen as a repayment, replacement, re-connection or repeat of his own childhood experience. Those who had experienced the role of father indicated a desire for biological parenthood. As they aged, the men found ways to adapt and reappraise their beliefs about themselves emotionally, psychologically, and in their relationships. A gap between themselves and others was emphasised with suggestions of discrimination in familial, social and work settings. The issues surrounding childlessness reflected the individual's upbringing and guided and shaped each participant’s unique responses, beliefs, feelings and actions.
Parallels were drawn with the findings of those in infertility treatment. These included a range of responses: complex bereavement, depression, isolation, substance abuse and addiction. Implications for counsellors are examined and possible approaches to working with childless men, for example, feminist and gender therapy are discussed.