In January this year, AWOC was asked to appear as part of a BBC Breakfast weeklong series on ageing. Excitedly we got suited and booted, and Robin and I descended on Jody’s cosy flat which became a temporary studio. We were interviewed for approximately 90 minutes, all of us talking about our particular areas and background. Of course we knew that the final segment would only be a few minutes and so it proved, but what we didn’t expect was that everything Robin said would be cut completely. Instead his left ear featured heavily as he nodded at what Jody and I said; despite the fact that Ageing without Children was founded by two women (myself and Jody day) and 2 men (Robin Hadley and Mervyn Eastman), the media continue to see it as a woman’s issue.
Astonishingly, no data is recorded in the UK on the numbers of men who never become fathers. In fact Norway is the only country in the world that records this. Some attempt has been made by Finnish academics at the Population Research Institute to estimate numbers in Europe. Their work shows that: ‘Male lifetime childlessness is highest (above 23% among men aged 45–49) in Finland, Italy, Germany, the UK and the Czech Republic.’ If this is true it means that the number of men without children in the UK is going to be higher than the number of women.
Of course, Ageing without Children isn’t just about people who have never had children whether by choice or circumstance. Since AWOC began and we’ve gained a wider understanding of the issue, we’ve come to realise that people estranged from their children, people whose children predeceased them and people whose children live very far from them can also regard themselves as ageing without children.
We know one of the biggest issues affecting older men is loneliness and we also know that older men are more likely to lose contact with their children “With respect to family, almost 1 in 4 men (23%) have less than monthly contact with their children” (source http://www.independentage.org/media/828364/isolation-the-emerging-crisis-for-older-men-report.pdf ). This suggests that for men, becoming estranged from their children can be a big problem as they age. There are some excellent projects set up to tackle loneliness in older men such as Men in Sheds, Walking Football and s Sporting Memories Ageing without children hopes to have specific work targeted at men and to work with organisations like these in the future.
It is vitally important that Ageing without children is seen as an issue that affects both men and women. We are very keen to hear from men who are ageing without children with ideas about what we could and should do to help men in this situation. Next year if we are interviewed again, we want to be sure that we get to hear from more than Robin’s left ear!