According to the All-Russia population census in 2010, by the end of the reproductive age – 50 years old – one in ten women remains childless, which means almost a two fold increase in childlessness, as in previous censuses only one woman in 20 was childless, noted Olga Isupova, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Demography and Nina Rusanova, Leading Research Fellow of the Institute of Social and Economic Studies of Population of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In their report ‘Voluntarily or Involuntarily: Who Provides 17-20% of the Expected Ultimate Childlessness among Young Russian Women?’ the researchers studied internet discussions of those patients who used assisted reproductive technologies in order to give birth to a child, and those who could have babies, but didn’t want to do it for different reasons. The researchers analysed discussions on the website probirka.ru, dedicated to assisted reproduction, a childfree group in Live Journal in 2006-2008, and the forum on Woman.ru in 2011-2014.
In Russia, as in many Western countries, women are increasingly giving birth at an age when the natural capability of conception and childbearing is reducing, say the authors of the report. Some practitioners suppose that these processes begin at 27-30, the others say that the critical age is 35 and more. Regardless of the exact figure, gynecologists don’t recommend middle-aged women delay their pregnancies further.
But in practice women often postpone childbearing. In Russia the majority of children are born in marriage (70%), but more than a half of young couples aren’t in any hurry to have children, say Isupova and Rusanova. Moreover, many couples prefer to have only one child.
A small but increasing number of women are declaring their unwillingness to have children under any circumstances. These are known as ‘childfree’, and their decision can cause a strong reaction within society, as the majority of people don’t agree with their arguments. Assisted reproduction also causes controversy although it does help to solve the problem of infertility. There is still certain inertia in the perception of extracorporeal fertilization and other assisted reproductive technologies. In developed countries only 56% of infertile couples use specialized clinics, though assisted reproduction has become a standard medical procedure. As a result a number of women remain childless, though this could be reduced.
The patients of reproductive clinics, who discussed their problems on Probirka.ru, can be divided into several groups according to their attitude to childfree:
Those who do not believe in voluntary childlessness, because they cannot imagine why a woman doesn’t want to have children. They emphasize that maternity is every woman’s duty.
Those who negatively perceive childfree because they feel opposite to them, at least in terms of reproductive desires. These are women who would like to have a baby but are unable to, and they don't understand how a woman can voluntarily give up motherhood.
Those who feel a distant resemblance to childfree, in the sense that both women are against the concept of ‘fate’ and society making their reproductive choices. Such patients of reproductive clinics can assure the others that they voluntarily refused childbearing. By the way, at the same time a percentage of those known as childfree assure others of their infertility.
‘One shouldn’t put infertile patients, women with gynecological problems, and those unwilling to have children for a number of reasons in the same category,’ states a typical message on a childfree forum. Voluntarily childless women are often keen to sharply distance themselves from those who are childless for biological reasons and emphasize the ideological side of their reproductive choice or mention the circumstances of such choice.
Some childfree explain their conscious childlessness on the lack of a reliable partner, the fear of giving birth ‘for herself’ and plenty of work. There are women who say that they do not accept the process of procreation itself.
According to a study of Italian researchers, Tanturri and Mencarini (Tanturri, M.L. and L. Mencarini (2008). Childless or childfree? Paths to voluntary childlessness in Italy. Population and development review 34(1): 51-77), only one third of childless women did not want to have children at all. About one third of these women failed to give birth to a child. Other respondents did not give birth to a child because they were not married.
Among childfree women there are those who hesitate and could be persuaded, those for whom the question of procreation is not closed. It is clear that they need support, otherwise they’ll never give birth to a baby, state the authors.
Such women often notice that theoretically they could have a baby, despite the fact that they have got used to their childlessness. The researchers believe that some assisted reproductive technologies can be applied to these women, as they feel the need for children at their late reproductive age, when physiological possibilities of conception and gestation are reduced.
According to reproductive clinic statistics, 85% of applications concern the desire to give birth to a firstborn. The number of women over 40 in this situation may be as high as 15%. The authors state that these numbers correlate with the statistics. In Russia 14.1% of women at 35 are childless. The number of childfree among them is unknown. Reproductive specialists point out a growing number of women who decide to become mothers for the first time after 45.
A high proportion of childless women and childbearing at late reproductive age are typical for today’s demographic development in Russia. However, the structure of childlessness is not uniform, and this gives experts reason for optimism. ‘A preliminary analysis shows that only every tenth childfree woman remains childless under any circumstances,’ state the researchers. Other women still can change their childfree decision if circumstances change, or if they just learn more about modern reproductive capabilities, summarize Olga Isupova and Nina Rusanova.