When a child is born
Posted on May 19, 2019
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While many people with young children probably feel a lot older – and certainly more tired – than their childless friends, the fact remains that people who have children statistically live longer than those who don’t. Why this is the case is not clear though, but some recent research has shed a little more light on the subject.
A recent study of multiple health outcomes, reported on BMC looked at why parents have lower mortality rates in old age than childless men and women. Is it simply that mothers and fathers are less likely to develop diseases?
The three researchers – Anna Meyer, Hannah L Brooke and Karin Modig – took a closer look at the relationship between parenthood and health in old age. They did not only focus on mortality in general; but also examined the risk of a first hospital admission, the risk of being readmitted to hospital, and survival after hospitalisation among the entire Swedish population over the age of 70 (in total 890,544 men and women).
The researchers said: “We believe that two findings are particularly interesting. As expected, childless men and women had higher mortality than parents in our study, but they were not at higher risk of a first hospitalisation. This suggests that the advantage of having children perhaps plays out once ill health occurs rather than before. Alternatively, parents might be more likely to seek help and receive early treatment, which itself might be one reason for their longer survival.”
In an era of population ageing and rising levels of childlessness, identifying care deficits could eventually contribute to reducing health disparities in old age.
The researchers continued: “The mortality differences between parents and non-parents should not be neglected. Holding other factors constant, we estimated that 61% of women with two children were expected to survive to age 87, while the corresponding number for childless women was 56%.”
So what causes these differences? People who eventually become parents might be healthier already from an early age. For instance, some people remain childless because of health problems in mid-life which could then affect mortality in old age. This would mean that having children indicates better overall health but does not contribute to it.
On the other hand, adult children often become caregivers for their ageing parents, even in a country like Sweden in which publicly financed health and elder care is universally available. Children might also provide emotional and informational support to their ageing parents. These forms of support may directly contribute to the better health and mortality outcomes for parents.
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