“Better than Childless?” The Role of Socioeconomic Status in the Likelihood of Becoming a First-Time Mother while Single at Later Ages

Denise Musni , DEMO-UCLouvain
Christine Schnor, UCLouvain

Postponing childbearing due to work, finances, or difficulties finding a partner raises the risk of being involuntarily childless – a trend that doubled in some European countries in recent decades. Given this context, qualitative studies documented a rise in highly educated women pursuing an unconventional path to motherhood: conceiving in advanced maternal ages while unpartnered. These women challenge the stereotypical image of the young, low-educated single mother, and hint at a changing face of single motherhood. In Belgium, where abortion is legal and assisted reproduction is accessible for single women, single motherhood at childbirth may be the result of active reproductive choices. The likelihood, timing, and type of single motherhood may then be influenced by socioeconomic status (SES) and access to childrearing support (ex. through parents). However, numbers on single mothers at childbirth are largely lacking. This study uses Belgian administrative data from 1995 to 2015 to reveal the increasing proportion of highly educated and later-aged women (35+) having unpartnered first births. Event-history analysis will be used to estimate the likelihood of becoming a single mother at first childbirth versus remaining childless for women aged 14 to 49, factoring in SES and proximity to parents. The research investigates how the effect of predictors vary by women’s age. Initial findings suggest a negative relationship between education and single motherhood at younger ages, turning positive in later ages. This study contributes to the limited literature on single mothers at childbirth and sheds light on the evolving impact of social inequalities on family-formation.

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 Presented in Session 20. Fertility and Singlehood