Parenthood is associated with a longer life than childlessness, particularly in older age, according to a study led by Karolinska Institute researcher Karin Modig. By the age of 60, the difference in life expectancy, which does not seem to be influenced by the sex of the child(ren), may be as much as two years.
To find out if parenthood might help stave off death in older age, Dr. Modig and co-authors tracked the lifespan from the age of 60 onwards of all men (704,481) and women (725,290) with a birth date between 1911 and 1925 and living in Sweden, using national registry data. The study also gathered registry data on marital status and the number and sex of any children they had.
Age specific risks of death were calculated and compared for each calendar year for people who had had at least one child and for those who were childless.
Not unexpectedly, the risk of death rose with increasing age, irrespective of whether the individuals were parents or not.
But after taking account of influential factors, such as educational attainment, the risks of death were lower among those who had had at least one child than they were among those who were childless — and more so among men than among women.
The one year risk of death for an 80 year old man with a child was 7.4%, for example, compared with 8.3% for a childless man of the same age.
The gap in absolute death risks between the two groups rose with increasing age, and was somewhat larger for men than it was for women.
At age 60 the difference in the one year risk of death was 0.06% among men and 0.16% among women. By the age of 90 these differences had risen to 1.47% among men and to 1.10% among women.