Men can be broody too
3rd April 2013 - Not having children can have as much of an impact on a man's mental health as it can for a woman, according to new research.
A presentation to the British Sociological Association's annual conference in London tomorrow will show how the instinct to have children and feel broody is just as strong for men. Men without children who have not chosen not to become a father may experience depression, jealousy and loneliness.
Previous studies have shown that divorced or widowed men who don’t have children have higher rates of depression than women in similar situations. Older unmarried, childless men have smaller social networks and their health can be worse too, including diet, wellbeing and looking after themselves.
Men: Hard to express feelings
The Keele University research combined data from in-depth interviews with 14 men and survey results from both men and women. It was carried out by Robin Hadley, a doctoral student at Keele University who has trained as a counsellor.
His study called 'The experiences of involuntarily childless men as they age' is being presented to a conference but not yet published in a peer reviewed journal. However, he has already published research on this topic in the Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology.
One 55-year-old told an interviewer: "People have no conception of just how isolated someone who hasn't got kids in middle age is."
Robin Hadley tells us: "It's very difficult for men to express how important reproduction is to them.
"Women tend to have an established narrative to use: from having children is a great thing, to 'having children isn't a great thing, or a sad thing due to infertility.
"There are not the same stories available for men. Men really struggle to express that."
Helping broody men
So what help can be given to a man with broody feelings? "One of the things is to get it out there, rather than just keeping it locked in as an expectation that's brought in from parents and culture," Robin Hadley says.
"There's an African saying, 'You are not a man unless you are a father'.
"It's all right to feel that you want to have a child and to be a father. That makes you broody and can affect your mood."
Planning for fatherhood
The reasons for not having children or delaying starting a family include not being able to afford it, concentrating on a relationship or work first.
Robin Hadley says having an unspoken desire to become a dad can also lead to problems if a relationship breaks down: "My plans were to be a father by the time, let's say, I was 35, but now I'm 40 or 45, where am I going to go?"
He says childless men can feel left out if male friends or relatives around their age have families: "You can feel quite isolated in the peer group. Peers disappear. Children take over their lives."
However, Mr Hadley says men may feel nervous about taking the step of letting their partner know they'd like to have children: "The risk here is: I might get rejected, I might get hurt or I might get humiliated. So, rather than take that risk, I'll step back."