This chapter presents trends in childlessness over the course of the twentieth century. It also provides a review of the antecedents and consequences of childlessness among older adults. Childlessness has only recently started to figure prominently on the research
agenda of the social sciences. Previously, it was studied tangentially, or not at all.
Demographers have focused on mean levels of fertility, the age at childbearing, marital and non-marital fertility and intergenerational co-residence. Given these substantive foci, childlessness has remained a hidden issue. Sociologists with an interest in parenthood
have largely restricted their research to active phases of childbearing. Analyses have involved comparisons of those who do and those who do not have dependent children. In such designs, the childless end up in the same category as empty-nesters, making it
impossible to disentangle the effects of parenthood (i.e., having children) and parenting (i.e., caring for children). The never married also disappear from sight.Throughout the review I will highlight the ways in which knowledge about childlessness in late life has remained limited because of the kinds of research questions that were asked. It will become evident that research on childless older adults has suffered from historical myopia, a neglect of men and a disregard for the diversity among the childless.