Kinlessness Around the World

Ashton M. Verdery, Rachel Margolis, Zhangjun Zhou, Xiangnan Chai, Jongjit Rittirong, James Raymo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The first and second demographic transitions have led to profound changes in family networks. However, the timing and extent of these transitions vary widely across contexts. We examine how common it is for contemporary older adults to lack living kin and whether such individuals are uniformly disadvantaged around the world. Methods: Using surveys from 34 countries that together contain 69.6% of the world's population over age 50 and come from all regions of the world, we describe the prevalence and correlates of lacking immediate kin. We examine macro-level demographic indicators associated with the prevalence of kinlessness as well as micro-level associations between kinlessness and sociodemographic and health indicators. Results: There is great variation in levels of kinlessness, from over 10% with neither a spouse nor a biological child in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland to levels below 2% in China and the Republic of Korea. There are strong macro-level relationships between kinlessness and lagged or contemporaneous fertility, mortality, and nuptiality measures and more marginal relationships with other demographic forces. Micro-level associations between kinlessness and respondent attributes are varied. The kinless are more likely to live alone than those with kin in all countries. In most countries, they have equivalent or worse self-rated health and lower education, although there are notable exceptions. There is substantial variation in the gender composition of the kinless population. Discussion: As demographic changes affecting kinlessness continue, we expect the scale of the kinless population to grow around the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1394-1405
Number of pages12
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 4 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Cross-cultural study
  • Demography
  • Family structure
  • Kinship


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