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Constructions of childlessness and ageing: legitimising dependency on unpaid care?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gemma Frances SpiersORCiD, Professor Barbara Hanratty



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2022, Alex Hall, Gemma Spiers and Barbara Hanratty. Purpose: A narrative has developed in recent years to link ageing without children to support needs in later life. Social care has long been viewed as a private, familial responsibility, whilst health care is a societal, public good. Childlessness is framed negatively in terms of increased demands on care services and wider family networks. As governments tackle the issue of how to fund and deliver an equitable and sustainable long-term care sector, this paper aims to argue that it is more critical than ever to evaluate views of childlessness in the context of ageing. Design/methodology/approach: Policy-oriented commentary paper. Findings: If the focus on childlessness and ageing is through a lens of a potential care deficit, this continues to frame ageing without children as a risk and does little to challenge increasing reliance on unpaid care. Research and policy need to explore how to make access to social care more equitable and reduce expectations of unpaid care. They also need to increasingly emphasise exploration of aspects of later life beyond the issue of care, for example, by more of a focus on communities, what matters to people to age well and lives that extend beyond traditional views of nuclear families. Originality/value: This paper uses the UK as a contextual example to argue that the research and policy communities have a role to play in evaluating their constructions of childlessness and ageing and questioning whether they do little more than legitimise government’s unwillingness to take responsibility for social care.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Hall A, Spiers G, Hanratty B

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Quality in Ageing and Older Adults

Year: 2022

Volume: 23

Issue: 4

Pages: 165-173

Online publication date: 24/10/2022

Acceptance date: 30/05/2022

Date deposited: 26/06/2023

ISSN (print): 1471-7794

ISSN (electronic): 2042-8766

Publisher: Emerald Publishing


DOI: 10.1108/QAOA-10-2021-0078


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Institute for Health and Care Research Policy Research Unit in Older People and Frailty