Postgraduate Research Opportunity

ESRC Project linked studentship - A life course perspective on childlessness

Studentship opportunity


Title: A life course perspective on childlessness 

Funding: Home/EU fees and a stipend of £14,777 per year (including an AQM enhancement of £3,250 for each PhD year)

Application deadline: 20 January 2020

Start date: April or October 2020

Based in: Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER)


An increasing proportion of men and women in UK and other European countries are remaining childless. The latest statistics available for the UK show that approximately one fifth of women born in 1965 will never have children. The term childlessness is ambiguous since it refers both to men and women who voluntarily decide not to have children (sometimes refereed as voluntary childless or childfree) and to those who are unable to have children (involuntary childlessness).   

Although childlessness was also high among women born in the early decades of the twentieth century, underlying reasons were different. In early twentieth century cohorts never-marrying and, among the married, involuntary childlessness were the most important reasons for childlessness Among more recent cohorts a choice to have no children may be more common, or a choice by default through postponement leading to fertility problems among those who decide they do wish to have a child. As the biological ability to conceive a child for women starts to decrease on average at about age 30 years and diminishes after age 35 (Lambalk et al. 2009), life course postponement is associated with higher involuntary childlessness. This is important as in all European countries, age at first birth has risen substantially since the 1970s (Mills et al. 2011).

Responses to involuntary childlessness also differ. Among early 20th century cohorts adoption or acceptance may have been usual responses. In the early 21st century consideration of assisted reproductive techniques is an option, with implications for health service provision. High levels of childlessness are also a concern for public policy as there are implications for future support at older ages.

The PhD project will aim to identify the life course trajectories that lead to childlessness among men and women and the life course consequences of remaining childless. The PhD candidate will use sequence analysis and methods for longitudinal data analysis to examine which life course trajectories are more likely to lead to childlessness in different contexts. The analysis will focus on gender differences in pathways to childlessness which will fill a considerable gap in the literature which is based almost exclusively on women. The few studies on both men and women suggest that women and men have distinctive pathways into childlessness. (Keizer, Dykstra, and Jansen 2007). To control for observable and unobservable family factors, such as intergenerational transmission of family preferences, part of the analysis will be based on siblings. By comparing the life course trajectories of siblings, it will be possible to identify which factors are most important in leading to childlessness. At the same time, family fixed effect models will be used to estimate the life course consequences of childlessness in the long term.

The PhD candidate will use data from large scale longitudinal life course studies such as Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study and the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study (WLS) in the US. Both datasets have rich longitudinal information on life courses following individuals over time and both datasets have information on siblings.

The studentship will be for three years, beginning in October 2020 or October 2021. It will involve the use of advanced quantitative methods and we have therefore included the costs associated with the enhanced stipend and research training support grants. This studentship will be based at ISER.


  • This studentship is offered as either a 1+3 (masters plus 3 year PhD) or a +3 award (PhD only) in Applied Social and Economic Research / Sociology, based in ISER, for Home/EU students
  • It may be taken full-time or part-time


  • The studentship award covers your university fees, and provides you with a stipend of £14,777 per year (including an AQM enhancement of £3,250 for each PhD year)
  • You will also be able to apply for small amounts of additional funding via the Research Training Support Grant

How to apply

You will need to apply for a place on the ISER PhD Applied Social and Economic Research by 20 January 2020 and will need to apply for this studentship directly to Nicola Barban and Emily Grundy by 20 January 2020.

You will be expected to start on or about 1 April 2020.