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Myths around Men

by Dr Robin A Hadley, author of How is a Man Supposed to be a Man

The global trend of declining fertility rates and an increasingly ageing population has serious implications for individuals and institutions alike because care in later life is often fundamentally reliant on adult children to indirectly and/or directly support their parents. In the Westernised world there are probably more childless men than childless women. Childless men are mostly excluded from ageing, social science and reproduction scholarship and almost completely absent from most national statistics. Most countries do not collect the father’s fertility history at birth registration – as they do the mother’s – consequently the exact level of male childlessness is difficult to determine. Indeed, Marcia Inhorn et al  (2009) and Inhorn (2012) have successfully argued that men have been marginalized as the ‘second sex’ in anthropology and the social sciences through two main ways. First, that the vast bulk of sociocultural material on reproduction centres on women’s experience. Second, the widely embedded assumption that they are not interested and disengaged, from reproductive intentions and outcomes. There are many myths around men, manhood and masculinity when it comes to both age and reproduction. Two of the most embedded in many societies, institutions and social structures is that men are fully fertile from puberty until death and that men are not concerned about reproduction. In my book How is a man supposed to be a man? Male childlessness a Life Course Disrupted I examine these and other myths around men in the Epilogue.

‘Men Can Have Children at Any Time in Their Lives.’

1. Sperm declines in efficacy after the age of 35.

2. All societies have sociocultural rules (the ‘social clock’) regarding the acceptable age to become parents.

3. The vast majority of men do not become parents after 50.

‘Men aren’t bothered about being a dad.’

1. Research has shown that a diagnosis of infertility for men and women cause the same distress as a diagnosis of cancer or a similar disease.

2. Childless men who wanted to be fathers reported being more angry, jealous and depressed than equivalent women.

3. Parenthood is mainly associated with women. Men who express the desire to perform nurturing roles are often stigmatized.

4. Any species that required a male and female to reproduce would not survive long if the majority of either sex ‘was not interested’ in reproduction. Similarly, would Homo sapiens have gone through its various technological and social advances if survival of the species was not a priority?

The arguments supporting for those statements above are detailed in Chapter 1, ‘Contexts of Childlessness’ and 2, ‘Ageing and Male Involuntary Childlessness’. Moreover, how the childless-by-circumstance men experienced these fictions in everyday life are described in Chapters 4 to 7 respectively, Chapter 4. Pathways to Involuntary Childlessness, Chapter 5. Negotiating Fatherhood. Chapter 6. Relationships and Social Networks, Chapter 7. Ageing Without Children.

In scholarship and the wider world there is a need to acknowledge the complex interconnection between the biological, cultural, economic, physiological, psychological and sociological that influences the reproductive outcomes for men and boys across the life course.


Hadley, Robin A. 2021. How is a man supposed to be a man? Male childlessness a Life Course Disrupted (Berghahn Books: New York).

Inhorn, M.C. 2012. The New Arab Man. Emergent Masculinities, Technologies, and Islam in the Middle East (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ).

Inhorn, Marcia C, Tine Tjørnhøj-Thomsen, Helene Goldberg, and Maruska la Cour Mosegard (ed.)^(eds.). 2009. Reconceiving the Second Sex: Men, Masculinity, and Reproduction. (Berghahn Books: New York).

Robin A Hadley is an independent research consultant who has conducted research with the Open University and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) where he is an associate lecturer.