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Life without fatherhood: a qualitative study of older involuntarily childless men

Hadley, Robin Andrew

Life without fatherhood: a qualitative study of older involuntarily childless men Thumbnail


Robin Andrew Hadley


This thesis reveals the complexities in older men’s experience of involuntary childlessness. Research literature on both involuntary childlessness and ageing has highlighted the paucity of material on men’s experience. The aim of this study was to explore and understand the impact of childlessness on the lives of older, self-defined, involuntarily childless men.
This qualitative study employed a pluralistic framework formed by life course, biographical, and gerontological approaches to explore the lives of 14 men, aged between 49 and 82 years. A broad thematic analysis was applied to the material, and the findings demonstrated the intersections between childlessness and ageing over the life course. Reproductive intentions were affected by many factors including the timing of exiting education, relationship formation and dissolution, and choice of partner. The men’s attitude to fatherhood changed with age and centred on the theme of the ‘social clock’ that revealed the synergy between an individual and societal morès surrounding parenthood. The loss of the assumed father role and relationship ebbed and flowed throughout the men’s lives in a form of complex bereavement. Awareness of feeling both a sense of ‘outsiderness’ and a fear of being viewed as a paedophile were widely reported. Quality of life was linked with current health, and ageing was strongly associated with loss of physical or mental functionality.
This thesis supports the case for a biographical method of research drawing on a pluralistic framework. It challenges research that reports men are not affected by the social, emotional and relational aspects of involuntary childlessness. In addition, it adds to the debate between the concepts of ‘emergent’ and ‘hegemonic’ masculinities. Recommendations are made in the conclusion regarding the use of the findings for future research and policy.


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