Ageing without children, gender and social justice
This chapter approaches the issues affecting the growing numbers of older childless people using Nancy Fraser’s tripartite model of social justice (resources, recognition and representation) to highlight a range of inequalities in later life. The overarching concern is the current gaps in knowledge about ageing and childlessness, particularly in relation to older men. In terms of resources, while childless older women may be materially advantaged, compared to older women who are parents, comparative data is not, as yet, available for older men. While the data on health and well-being is slightly contradictory, it would appear that this is very much contingent upon pathways to childlessness and the meanings individuals attribute to them, and to gender. Older childless men appear more reliant on a partner for well-being, compared with older childless women. Older childless people may have social networks which are differently constituted than older parents, but which are no less robust. It may be that this robustness weakens if/when more intense age-related care needs emerge. However, social care policy appears not to take the needs of childless older people into account. In terms of recognition, childlessness and grandchildlessness may deny older individuals a crucial buffer to prejudice and discrimination associated with older age. They may also expose older men to great risk of sexualised stereotyping (e.g. as potential ‘dirty old men’) and single, childless older women (especially lesbians) to a lack of visibility. There is a need for far greater representation of childless older people in research, advocacy and social policy.