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AN EVALUATION OF THE IMPACT OF CHILDLESSNESS AND SOCIO-CULTURE ON MARRIED COUPLES

ABSTRACT

Childlessness has major psychological and social implications for affected persons, especially in settings where fertility is highly valued. While a number of studies have documented how childlessness is perceived in these societies and the multitude of adverse consequences suffered by affected individuals, studies have not made a clear distinction between voluntary and involuntary childlessness in these settings. A semi-structured questionnaire was used to elicit information on socio-demographic characteristics of the respondents, socio-cultural implication of childlessness on married couples, causes of childlessness on married couples, perception of married couples towards childlessness, and effects of childlessness on married couples and what are the copying strategies adopted by these childless couples from the selected Yoruba communities, the study explores both voluntary and involuntary childlessness. Findings show that not having children, whether voluntarily or not, contributes to a kind of invisibility and poverty in Nigeria. Regardless of the reason, voluntary childlessness evoked strong negative feelings among family members. The study also shows the broad definition given to voluntary childlessness in Nigeria as including individuals that are childless because they chose to stay with an infertile partner and also those who could not have biological children and chose not to adopt. However, the study noted a more tolerant attitude to involuntary childlessness, suggesting possible changes in perceptions of the condition. Symbolic interactionist theory was adopted.

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1   Background to the Study

Childlessness has varied consequences through its effects on societies and on the lifestyles and life chances of individuals. The childless lifestyle enhances life satisfaction for some individuals, while diminishing it for others, for whom parenthood was a personal goal. For societies, childlessness is a factor in low birth rates and population decline, with which are associated diminishing labour force entries and rising proportions in older ages. Childlessness is therefore a consideration for policy makers, both because of its demographic impact and because of its effects on the lives of individuals. The latter become most apparent in the older ages, where childlessness means that family resources for support of the disabled or frail are less assured (World Health Organization, 1999).

Studies of the advantages and disadvantages of childlessness in later life suggest that well-being is not necessarily dependent on children, because the childless can meet their expressive (emotional) needs through greater contact with other relatives, friends, and neighbours, as well as with organizations such as clubs and churches. However, the childless in poor health appear to have a higher risk of social isolation or of admission to aged care institutions. This implies that the support networks of the childless elderly are less effective in providing instrumental (practical) support, at least when the need is continuing. Although the majority of the elderly do not necessarily see family care as the best alternative, without the prospect of periodic help from children, or their assistance as a last resort, the childless must be more reliant on formal services or institutional care. Thus, as cohorts with high proportions childless reach the older ages, familycentered approaches to aged care become less effective. In the late twentieth century, many of the aged in industrialized countries had few close relatives, which brought to the fore questions about their access to support. The decline of childlessness among later cohorts is now reducing the prevalence of such problems.However, by the 2020s, similar concerns about the adequacy of personal resources will confront the 1950s cohorts, as childlessness continues to shape their destiny. The proportions childless are unlikely to fall below 10 percent in any of the more developed countries for which data are available. Merriam Webster dictionary (2002) marriage is the legally or formally recognized union of a man and a woman. Though a universal phenomenon, cultural differences abound in the formation of the family and the universal features are important. Everybody makes choices on a daily basis; some of them are as simple as choosing a lunch menu but others are as serious as whom to marry. These choices, big or small, shape our lives and future. Whether or not to become a parent is one of the significant and serious choices. For most people, getting married and starting a family- having children-is not a matter of choice; they are a rite of passage. 

In marriage, childlessness is one aspect of the diversity inherent in contemporary experience of marriage and the family. For most of history, childlessness has been regarded as great personal tragedy involving much emotional pain and grief, especially when it is resulted from failure to conceive or from the death of a child. With this greater diversity, once common pressures for childbearing have given way to greater social acceptance of remaining single or married without children. Before conception was well understood, childlessness was usually blamed on the woman and this in itself added to the high level negative emotional and social effects of childlessness. Some wealthy families also adopted children as a means of providing heirs in case of childlessness or where no son had been born, the monetary incentives offered by westerners desire for children is so strong that a commercial market in the child laundering business exists. Nonetheless, childlessness is a concern, partly because of its implications for the maintenance of societies and partly because of its unwanted consequences for individuals. However, societies regard children as the most important asset in every successful marriage and for this reason; childless couples become an object of ridicule in their communities. The dynamics of culture and human relationships have made researchers to observe many influences, manifestations, happenings and occurrences in marriage stability within the Yoruba community. However one of the general cultural beliefs in Yoruba marriage is that procreation is the basic aim of marriage, for them marriage and procreation are inseparable. However, modernization has not weakened the deep rooted tradition of having a child as soon as possible after marriage. According to Owo (1994), having many children makes one feel contented and important and also usually respected by others for not being childless. Marriage which fail to produce children often end in divorce. It is also describe as the dissolution or abrogation of marriage. Psychologically, Owo (1994) explained that childless couples especially the women are always depressed about their condition; they always feel bad because most of the blames are levied against them. The pains suffered by childless couples attract sympathy.

Every action, utterances and words from either the husband, his relations especially those of the mothers, brothers and sisters in-law are carefully analyzed and deeply interpreted to have been directed to the very fact that they have no child. They misconstruct people‟s idea and statement about themselves and read meanings into them. Most couples avoid people in order to evade the embarrassment they suffer; they feel embarrassed when people out of ignorance ask them about their children, some pick-up quarrel in such situations while others end up in committing suicide. Also, majority of childless men or women go mental. It is based on these assertions that the researcher intends to carry out the study, in order to investigate the impact of childlessness on married couples.

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