The number of women aged 80 without children is projected to triple in 25 years, increasing demand for formal social care and causing a rise in unmet need, official analysis suggests.
Women born in the middle of the 1960s baby boom are twice as likely to be childless than those born immediately after the Second World War, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.
This, coupled with an increase in life expectancy, means there will be “many older people in the future who do not have adult children”.
As children are the main group providing informal care for adults aged 85 and older, this suggests that demand for formal care, such as going into a care home, is likely to rise.
Researchers looked at birth registration data in three cohorts, those born after the First World War, now in their late 90s, after the Second World War, now in their 70s, and during the 1960s baby boom, now in their 50s.
Currently, there are 20,892 women aged 80 without children in England and Wales.
While it is not possible to estimate the number of childless men from the births data, separate analysis suggests similar levels of childlessness to women in the post WW2 and 1960s groups.
By 2045, when the 1960s cohort will enter their 80s, the number of women aged 80 without children is expected to more than triple to 66,313.
In England in 2018, over three in 10 adults aged 85 and over received informal care from their children.
And in 2016-17, a higher proportion of childless older people were receiving a form of formal care (12%) than those with children (7%).
The projected increase of elderly childless adults is likely to increase the already “substantial” unmet need in the social care sector, the ONS said.
This number does not include older people whose children have died before them, are unable to help because they live far away or have their own care needs, or are unwilling to help because they are estranged.
But it may include women with step or adopted children.
Reasons for the 1960s cohort remaining childless could include an increase in female employment, more women attending university, and a change in attitudes towards having children, the ONS said.
The ONS article said: “Although there is no evidence that the children of tomorrow’s older population will be any less willing or able to provide care for their parents than the children of today’s, there will be much larger numbers of older people in the future who do not have children.
“While older people, with and without children, are equally likely to be in receipt of care, for those without children, a higher proportion of this care is formal care.
“Higher levels of childlessness among the older population in the future therefore implies demand for formal care will increase, (and this is in the context of the substantial unmet care needs today).”