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Childlessness Increasingly Determined by Attitudes

Generally in Russia, being childless is an involuntary situation associated with infertility, age, and being single. However, being childless in Moscow is often a deliberate decision. Aside from a biological inability to bear children, childlessness in Moscow is likely to be associated with higher levels of education, income security, the structure of the family of origin, and certain attitudes, i.e. that having children is not necessary for happiness, according to Svetlana Biryukova, Research Fellow of the HSE's Centre for Studies of Income and Living Standards

In Russia overall, the proportion of respondents saying that they have chosen not to have children is 5.3%, while in Moscow it is more than three times higher at 17%. This finding, from a review of factors contributing to childlessness based on sample surveys, is part of a report presented by Svetlana Biryukova at a seminar of the Centre for Studies of Income and Living Standards.

The difference between Moscow and the rest of Russia is not surprising, since the capital is always at the forefront of demographic trends, setting the pace for other cities and communities, and the trend now detected in Moscow indicates that over time voluntary childlessness – or being child-free – may become more popular throughout the country.

Biryukova's research is based on countrywide data from the third wave of the 'Parents and Children, Men and Women in Family and Society' survey conducted by the Independent Institute for Social Policy in 2011 (1,535 childless respondents; the Moscow part of the sample is excluded). The data on Moscow was taken from the survey 'Moscow and Muscovites' conducted by the Institute for Human Development in the Metropolis in 2013 (815 childless respondents).

Worldwide, Childlessness Is Driven by Women's Emancipation

In many countries that have completed the demographic transition from high birth and death rates to low birth and death rates, childlessness by choice is growing, and a 'child-free strategy' is gaining momentum.

This trend is on the rise in Moscow, and Biryukova suggests that it may eventually spread to other Russian regions. According to the 2010 national census data, the proportion of childless women aged 35-39 was 11.5% nationwide and 17.15% in the city of Moscow (see Biryukova's report 'Who prefers zero? Attitudes toward childlessness in Russia and in its capital city'). To compare, the 2002 census revealed a much lower proportion of childless women, 7.4% in the country overall and 10.7% in Moscow. There is an obvious increase in the number of childless people.

Moreover, there is an increase in the proportion of childless people over 45 (considered the upper limit for fertility), estimated at 7% to 8% in Russia. According to the 2010 census, the proportion of childless people aged 45 and older is 6.55% in Russia overall and 8.96% in Moscow, compared to 5.83% nationwide and 7.84% in Moscow in the 2002 census (see the census data here and here).

Western experts often view childlessness in an economic context and associate voluntary childlessness with women's education and economic independence, i.e. when active women, faced with a choice between having children and pursuing a career, opt for the latter as a more rewarding 'project'.

However, in addition to macro-level factors, the choice of whether or not to become a parent is certainly determined by a personal situation, under which Western researchers include the age of one's first marriage, having a partner and the stability of the relationship, employment status, the number of siblings, and educational level, Biryukova notes.

Childlessness: Mainly Voluntary in Moscow, Mainly Involuntary in Provinces

The researcher selected a narrow range and a broad range of dependent variables to rank the reasons for childlessness in Russia: the former included variables such as gender, age, having a partner, and any health problems that can impede fertility; the latter also included education, financial security, employment, and other indicators related mainly to attitudes and stereotypes. Thus, respondents were asked about the number of children in their parental family and whether they believed "self-actualisation is possible without children." In Moscow, respondents were also asked, as a proxy for conservative beliefs, whether they believed marriage should always be formally registered.

The extended set of variables taking into account attitudes and stereotypes eventually produced more detailed and revealing results.

The study found that 5.3% of respondents countrywide and 17% of respondents in Moscow were childless by choice; however, factors contributing to childlessness were found to be different between Moscow and the rest of the country.

In Russia overall, the key reasons for childlessness included biological infertility, being almost at the end of one's reproductive years, and being single. In Moscow, in addition to age, factors such as education, one's parental family structure, and personal beliefs played an important role, reflecting greater importance of mental attitudes than life circumstances, such as being single or infertile.

Muscovites Have Too Many Reasons Not to become a Parent

Table 1 shows the findings for Russia as a whole. Both models show that health problems (columns M1 and M3) are the dominant factors of childlessness, followed by age and being single.

Employment and related income security also affects people's reproductive intentions.

Table 1: Results of a regression analysis: Russia as a whole

Parameter

 

M1

M2

M3

Sex (ref. female)

male

1.691

1.422

1.456

Age group (ref. 18-29)

30-39

2.197

2.927

2.993

40-49

5.078

5.987

2.993

Health limitations

yes

6.567

5.911

5.837

Having a partner

no partner

3.3

2.788

2.721

Education (ref. less than vocational school)

vocational school

-

1.17

1.128

college/university

-

0.597

0.614

Income security (ref. high)

low

-

1.197

1.207

Employment status (ref. employed)

unemployed

-

2.491

2.508

Siblings in the family of origin (ref. more than two)

one

-

-

0.871

two

-

-

0.893

Type of settlement (ref. big city)

rural community

-

-

1.116

small town

 

 

1.391

Attitudes: self-actualisation without children (ref. impossible)

not sure

-

-

1.237

possible

-

-

1.938

Significance of the model (1% level)

+

+

+

NAGELKERKE'S R-SQUARED

0.14

0.174

0.183

Source: Biryukova's Presentation

The picture looks different in Moscow. While age is still significant, attitudes are equally important. Women with higher levels of education are more likely to choose childlessness, according to Biryukova. Curiously, this factor is not significant for Russia as a whole.

Having siblings is another important factor – the fewer siblings in the family of origin, the higher the chances of childlessness. People who come from smaller families in Moscow are more likely to refuse to parent, Biryukova notes. However, no relationship between having siblings and parenting was found in Russia overall.

Table 2: Results of a regression analysis: Moscow

Parameter

 

M1

M2

M3

Sex (ref. female)

male

1.628

1.698

1.523

Age group (ref. 18-29)

30-39

1.75

1.647

1.975

40-49

3.526

3.913

3.727

Having a partner

no partner

1.097

1.209

1.058

Education (ref. less than vocational school)

vocational school

-

2.008

1.973

college/university

-

2.262

2.229

Income security (ref. high)

low

-

1.582

1.387

Employment status (ref. employed)

unemployed

-

1.079

0.956

Siblings in the family of origin (ref. more than two)

one

-

-

2.704

two

-

-

1.975

Place of birth (ref. other than Moscow)

Moscow

-

-

1.934

Attitudes: happiness without children (ref. impossible)

not sure

-

-

0.969

possible

-

-

1.7

Attitudes: marriage registration (ref. necessary for living together)

you need to live together for a while before getting married

-

-

0.92

marriage registration is not at all necessary

-

-

1.849

Significance of the model (1% level)

+

+

+

NAGELKERKE'S R-SQUARED

0.059

0.086

0.155

Source: Biryukova's Presentation

Another exclusively metropolitan touch to the picture of childlessness is the attitude that "marriage registration is not at all necessary," clearly indicating a departure from traditional views towards the family.

And finally, responses to the question on whether self-actualisation is possible without children reveal that in Russia as a whole, more people view parenting as separate from self-actualisation compared to those who are not sure. The situation is similar in Moscow, except that 'self-actualisation' was replaced by 'happiness' in the questionnaire administered to Muscovites.

Graph 1: Results of a regression analysis: Comparisons

Source: Biryukova's Presentation.

Childlessness May Be Temporary

Summarising her results, Biryukova notes that childlessness in Russia as a whole is mainly involuntary, but in Moscow it is largely voluntary. However, since the capital sets the trends, including those relevant to reproductive behaviour, the popularity of being child-free may well spread to the provinces. But it may be too early yet to worry, because it does not necessarily pose a serious threat to birth rates, explains Biryukova.

Quite simply, those who say they prefer to be child-free today may change their minds and eventually have children. Women who delay childbearing may finally decide to have children after 30 (but before 40 when fertility begins to decline).

But even in cases of biological infertility, assisted reproductive technology (ART) gives some hope, albeit only for those who can afford it.

And finally, it may be helpful to study the underlying reasons why women choose not to become parents – perhaps it has something to do with the atmosphere in society and with creating a child-friendly environment.

 

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 04, 2014