Background: Global and Iranian statistics indicate a rise in the newly emerging phenomenon of voluntary childlessness as a permanent status among couples. Childlessness is one of the main challenges of modern society. In Iran, studies on the process of voluntary permanent childlessness are scarce. The present study aimed to investigate the causes and underlying factors of voluntary childlessness and to provide an explanatory model of this phenomenon among Iranian couples.
Methods: The present qualitative study was conducted using the grounded theory approach proposed by Strauss and Corbin. Married couples from Tehran (Iran) with no infertility problems who chose to be permanently childless were invited to take part in this research. Theoretical saturation was reached after 33 semi-structured in-depth interviews.
Results: Based on the results, the causal conditions of childlessness included the high-risk society and adverse experiences. Contextual and intervening conditions included social problems, social support, transitional society, natural resources, social presence of women, and marriage age. The strategies and interactions observed in childless couples included the suppression of feelings, conflicts, rationality, and malingering. The core phenomenon was individualism.
Conclusion: Increased social problems and reduced social support endanger a society in transition toward modernity. Individualists resort to permanent childlessness by suppressing parental feelings, overcoming doubts about childbearing, and becoming nonchalant by running away from child-rearing responsibilities. Such people may resort to child adoption or to have pets in order to cope with loneliness.