From the moment childlessness became a topic of scientific research, the childless have been depicted in negative terms: less well adjusted, less nurturing, more materialistic, more selfish, more individualistic and more career-oriented than parents. Although the growing prevalence and acceptance of childlessness among young cohorts has led to a less powerful stigma in recent decades, the childless, especially those who voluntarily choose not to have children, remain stereotyped as somewhat “individualistic” people who avoid social responsibility and are less prepared to commit themselves to helping others in society.
This stereotype image of the childless appears in the debate about “the decline of the family,” where scholars have suggested that increased levels of childlessness contribute to declining levels of family solidarity. For example, it is likely that childlessness lowers affection and cohesion between adult children and their parents, especially when the former choose to remain childless, when the latter feel that the childlessness of their children hampers their own transition into grandparenthood.

Despite prevailing stereotypes of the childless, little research has actually addressed whether the childless feel less responsible for others compared to people who have children. This may be even more surprising in the light of contemporary childlessness rates. [...]

This research was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO); grant number 457-03-012, under the program “The ties that bind” (BKF). The data for this paper from the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (NKPS), which is funded by the “Major Investments Fund” of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), under grant 480-10-009.
Journal of Comparative Family Studies
Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Keizer, R., Dykstra, P., & Poortman, A.-R. (2011). Childlessness and norms of familial responsibility in the Netherlands. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 42(4), 421–438. Retrieved from