Having children 'helps you live longer'
6th December 2012 - Despite the popular belief among some parents that the stresses and strains of having children takes years off their life, a new study suggests that the opposite is true - particularly among women.
A Danish study has found that involuntarily childless women are at a four times higher risk of dying. Having a child cut the risk of early death, the analysis found.
The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Deaths from all causes
"Childless couples are at increased risk of dying early of all causes," says researcher Esben Agerbo, associate professor at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark.
However, the researchers acknowledge that their findings suggests a link between not having children and the risk of dying earlier and not a cause.
The researchers used Danish data, including births, deaths and IVF statistics, from 1994 to 2005.
During this time, 21,276 childless couples were registered for IVF statistics. A total of 15,210 children were born and 1,564 adopted.
During the same period, a total of 96 women and 200 men died, corresponding to a death rate of 51 and 117 per 100, 000 person years, respectively. The figures also show that 710 women and 553 men were diagnosed with a mental health problem, corresponding to rates of 385 and 299 per 100,000 person years, respectively.
Cancers and heart disease
Childless women were found to be at four times the risk of dying from circulatory disease, cancers and accidents than women who had given birth to a child. The risk was twice as great compared to those who had adopted a child.
Similarly, rates of death were around twice as high among men who did not become parents, either biologically or through adoption.
Rates of mental ill health were similar between couples with and without children of their own, with the exception of those with drug and alcohol problems. However, the prevalence of mental illness in couples who adopted children was around half that of other parents.
Esben Agerbo tells us he can only speculate as to why parenthood can lead to a longer life. "My best guess is health behaviours," he says. "When people have kids, they tend to live healthier." This might mean getting an early night to get more sleep, knowing they have to get up early to feed children, run them to school and do other chores.
The new findings echo those of Dr Michael Eisenberg, director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford University in the US.
In a study published in 2011, he found that childless married men had a higher risk of dying from heart disease acquired after they turned 50 than did men with two or more children.
The new study findings, he tells us, are ''certainly consistent with the identified link between childlessness and cardiovascular mortality".
As for how to explain the link, he says, "our group [of researchers] subscribes to a biologic link".
He says that fertility problems, common among the childless, may share some of the same origins as other health problems.