Outliving the self: Perspectives of men without biological offspring

Joanne Lawrence-Bourne

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The concept of ‘childlessness’ is not new. Yet, much of the academic and social environment has focussed on women’s experiences of childlessness, rendering the experiences of childless men relatively invisible. The specific aims of the current qualitative study are to explore and increase awareness of lived experiences of men who have not produced offspring, and examine discourse that influences meaning-making for childless men. Broader aims involve the exploration of how the concepts of childlessness and reproduction are perceived by, and incorporated into the lives of childless men. As pronatalistic ideology inextricably links reproduction with biology, questions are raised of the psychosocial wellbeing of men who have not produced offspring, and how a sense of being reproductive in other ways is developed.
To explore and integrate various perspectives on how childless men exist and experience the world in which most people have children, participating criteria included men who were aged over 50 years and who were not aware of having biological offspring. As a purposive non-probability sample, men were recruited by using adaptive sampling techniques, and invited to participate in two face-to-face semi-structured interviews. As human experience is multi-dimensional, to gain more than one perspective, a pluralistic approach was undertaken for mindful analysis. Two forms of qualitative analyses were applied to the data. The first was Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which enabled personal insights and meaning to the experience of male childlessness to be identified. A second approach, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis (FDA) helped to explore how wider discourses may have been internalised by the men and may have impacted on their subjective experiential accounts. While the dual approach provided different perspectives, they are complimentary, and at times, overlap with supportive insights.
Drawing from the narrations from 23 childless men, IPA identified four superordinate themes and one latent theme that highlighted noteworthy insights: 1) Desire, choice, and circumstances, integral with experience and meaning; 2) Meaning of ‘male childlessness’ not as straightforward as it seems; 3) Meaning of being ‘reproductive’ can be beyond biology; 4) The importance of relationships with other children, other people, and other species; and 5) A sense of continuation and discontinuation of self.
FDA revealed eight discourses upon which how the men understood male childlessness and reproduction: 1) Discourse of the importance of having children; 2) The tension between passive tendencies and being consciously active in the face of reproductive discourse; 3) Assumptions of inherent risk with being biologically reproductive; 4) The embedment of reproductive thinking in biology and animal kingdom discourse; 5) Assumptions of heterosexualism within human reproduction; 6) The emphasis on female gender within the reproductive sphere; 7) Discourses on how to be a man; and 8) Categorisation and dichotomisation of being a ‘childless male’.
The phenomenon of childlessness is complex and difficult to disentangle. However, insights gained from the current study offer a diverse understanding of male childlessness that may help to reshape how childlessness and reproduction is understood. For male childlessness to be included in discussions within the reproductive realm has implications in particular, for the men themselves as they reflected on their lives without offspring.

Key words: male childlessness, human reproduction, qualitative, psychosocial wellbeing, homosexual, stepfathers, relationships
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Gullifer, Judith, Principal Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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