Actual and de facto Childlessness in Old Age: Evidence and Implications from East Java, Indonesia



The demographic study of child supply has long concentrated on the implications of reproductive excess, rather than a lack of children. In recent years attention to population aging has begun to redress this emphasis, but even in aging research the comparative study of childlessness has a low profile. Data collected as part of anthropological and demographic research on aging in Indonesia are used to question current assumptions and to introduce issues and concepts that shed new light on current levels and experiences of childlessness. In our East Javanese study community 25 percent of the elderly have no living children, and another 15 percent have one child. Provincial and national data indicate that these findings are part of a wider pattern, corroborated by historical evidence from Indonesia, Europe, and populations elsewhere in the world. Analysis of the East Javanese data shows that childlessness is a composite category. Demographic childlessness occurs where a combination of proximate determinants (nuptiality, mortality, primary and pathological sterility) leads to no childbearing and child survival. De facto childlessness arises where there is a lack of support from any children. Actual childlessness aggregates demographic and de facto childlessness, net of adoption or remarriage where these provide alternative access to children. Analysis also takes into account the practices of patronage, charity, and kin support to assess the implications of childlessness in old age where state support is lacking.