The wellbeing of childless men and fathers in mid-life

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Using data from the first wave of the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study conducted in 200203, this paper examines the economic, psychological and social wellbeing among 1,467 men aged 4059 years with different parenthood histories and circumstances: the childless, fathers who live with their children, non-co-resident fathers, and empty-nest fathers. The gerontological interest is whether there are variations in wellbeing by parenting, and whether they persist in old age. The results showed that fathers have higher incomes than childless men, regardless of their partner history. As regards psychological wellbeing, men's partner history counts, not their parenthood status. Being single contributes to low levels of psychological wellbeing. The findings provide evidence of the socially integrating effects of parenthood and for men's good-provider role. Childless men and non-co-resident fathers report poorer quality family relationships. In addition, childless men were least likely to report helping others in the community. Overall, more support is found for the notion that fatherhood is a transforming event than that the wellbeing benefits derive from fathering activities. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of the findings for inequalities in wellbeing and informal support among the male members of the cohort born during 194363 when they reach old age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1227-1242
Number of pages16
JournalAgeing and Society
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The data for this paper are from the Netherlands Kinship Panel Study (NKPS), which is funded through the ‘Major Investments Fund’ of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Grant 480-10-009). Financial and institutional support for the NKPS also comes from The Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute, the Faculty of Social Sciences (Utrecht University), the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (University of Amsterdam) and the Faculty of Social Science (Tilburg University). Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the symposium Men Who Are Not Fathers : Who Are They and How Might They Age ? at the 58th annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America, Orlando, Florida, 18–22 November 2005, and at the workshop Minimal Families: Childlessness and Intergenerational Transfers, European University Institute, San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy, 21–23 September 2006. We thank all those who provided valuable comments on earlier versions.


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