Loneliness and childlessness

 A research into different types of loneliness and the moderating role of reasons for childlessness

Project description

Having children is often seen as a benefit in later life: children are important in the social network of older people and are often the main informal caregivers. Levels of childlessness are increasing rapidly in most European countries. Nevertheless, the way how childless older people experience their social network and loneliness remains underresearched. The state of the art reveals three scientific gaps: the need to 1) study different reasons for childlessness, 2) study different types of loneliness and 3) employ a life course perspective.  


In response, this study (2020-2024), funded by the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO) investigates the relation between childlessness and different types of loneliness, and how reasons for childlessness moderate this relation. We use a mixed-method approach: 1) a systematic literature review, 2) qualitative life story interviews with (childless) older people using the approach of McAdams and 3) a standardised survey among a representative sample of older adults.  


We aim to contribute to loneliness theories by introducing a life course approach, which means gaining insights on the dynamics and patterns of loneliness during the life course and on how childlessness has effects in old age. The results can be used to inform prevention programs aiming to decrease loneliness, among childless older people in particular.  


Childlessness, loneliness, older adults

Want to know more? 

Contact person

Hannelore Stegen - hannelore.stegen@vub.be