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Does being childless lead to loneliness and depression in old age?

What is the real cause for depression during old age? Lack of company or lack of activity or lack of company for activities? If lack of company is the main reason leading to depression, then, having good company is all that matters; and if the reason is lack of activity, then finding the right activity to keep one comfortably occupied is all that matters as well. So does that answer the question posed here – does being childless lead to loneliness and depression in old age?

A Norwegian survey shows that though initially, having a child, women found a purpose, saw an increase in satisfaction and self-esteem, men were unaffected by this aspect. During old age, childless old couples sensed no increase in depression or loneliness. The story may be different in countries where people rely on family, friends and relatives during old age for support or are influenced by social norms which links and assumes loneliness and depression with childlessness in old age. In this scenario, depression and loneliness is indeed related to childlessness. However, in countries where people rely on care services, they actually pan out better.

During earlier days, having no children was considered as a huge loss, a life without a purpose and an old age without the joy of seeing grandchildren – a disappointing end. However, the research shows that parents fare only slightly better than childless people in terms of happiness.

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Orna Donath, a sociologist from Israel who was childless by choice, interviewed more than twenty mothers who regretted having children. She published her findings noting that being a parent may bring about pleasure, love, pride and contentment and simultaneously experiencing distress, helplessness, frustration and subordination. The women she interviewed had also expressed the wish to ‘undo motherhood’ and Donath, without being judgmental, describes their stories as ‘unexplored maternal experience.’

Therefore, it is safe to conclude that for some, being childless, may initially experience failure and disappointment and some may even grieve for the rest of their lives, but sadness for a large number of people, fades with time. Finding other ways of belonging, fulfillment, and purpose enhances their quality of life and proves that ‘a childless old age is an unhappy one,’ as just a myth.

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