Childlessness has been increasing in SA – by women's choice

More and more women are choosing not to have children.
More and more women are choosing not to have children.

More and more women in South Africa are having fewer children, some are not having any at all. While some of this could be down to involuntary infertility, others are simply choosing not to become parents for their social, political or personal circumstances. 

According to the Cohort Fertility in South Africa report released by Statistics SA this month, the increasing trend in childlessness, regardless of theme, is evident.

Also read: We know what you did last summer – top months South Africans are making babies!

Focusing on period data gathered from censuses 1996, 2001, 2011 and Community Survey 2007 and 2016, the report focused of fertility behaviour of women aged 45 to 49 who are at the end of their childbearing years. The data looks at birth dates of women from 1947 up until 1971.  

The above graph shows that childlessness increased steadily, but marginally, across generations, until the very last recorded cohort. For those born during the 1967-1971 period (which falls in the Generation X years), the most significant change is that childlessness almost doubled from 8,3% to 17,9%.

Before breaking down why that is, the report mentions childlessness according to: 

  • Women who were ever in a union vs. women who were never in a union: Women who had never been married or in any sort of union were more likely to be childless. That said, women who were in a union showed a greater increase in childlessness than the latter. This indicates that more and more couples are having fewer children, whether voluntary or involuntary.
  • Women who are the heads of households vs. women who are the wives or daughters of the heads of households: Childlessness was the highest, across cohorts, for women who were the daughters of heads of households. But it is worth mentioning that the group with the lowest childlessness rate – women who are the heads of households – showed the greatest overall increase in childlessness from 5% in those born between 1947 and 1951 (the Baby Boomer years) to a more than triple 17,3% for those born between 1967-1971. 

In all this data, there seems to be a steady increase in childlessness with a significant jump later on. Corresponding the 1967-1971 period with what was happening in society at the time, we know, you know, and Rosie the Riveter knows, the increase had much to do with the women’s liberation movement that started in the late 60s.

In fact, in South Africa, the Women's March to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against passes for women was held as early as 1956.

So we’re not surprised that there’s also a link between childlessness, women's liberation and subsequently, education.

Also read: Here's why South Africans might be having fewer children

The above graph indicates that childlessness was and still is higher among women with secondary and tertiary education. However, in later years, childlessness in women with primary education increased significantly from the earliest period.

Also read: When is the best time for you to have a baby? Well, your body says before 35

While the report doesn’t make any assumptions as to why that is, we’re going to make the simple deduction that both the level and quality of education (that is education in general as well as sex ed) is crucial in women choosing if they want to become parents. 

Saying that, whether a woman chooses to have children or not, does not make her any more or less feminine, compelling and strong. But having the choice makes her more powerful than many women were before.  

Chat back:

How could and should schools teach sex ed to ensure teens are informed about sex and their future, before making any decisions? Tell us and we may publish your comments.

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