Do Your Kids Help You Live Longer?

August 12, 2014 Providence Olympia

kidslivelonger“My kids keep me young.” Do they really? “My teenager gives me gray hair.” Is that true? Many parents have moments where they mutter with all certainty: “These kids will be the death of me.” But, is the opposite actually closer to the truth?

It turns out, it may be. In a recent study led by Esben Agerbo, Ph.D, at Aarhus University in Denmark, researchers found that parents may actually live longer than people without children. The study is published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

A Case Study

The study took the question of whether or not people wanted children out of the equation and focused on people going through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Researchers looked at data for more than 21,000 couples seeking IVF between 1994 and 2008. Among the participants, more than 15,000 couples ultimately had kids (including 1,564 who adopted) and 5,354 remained childless.

The Results

During the study, deaths were uncommon. But there were some. In total, 96 women and 220 men died from varying causes. The Danish study compared the number of deaths among childless men and women to deaths among parents. Using these numbers, other population-based death rates and statistics – plus taking into account factors like age, education and income – Dr. Agerbo and his colleagues found the death rate for childless women under study was four times greater than those who became moms. Even women who adopted had a 33% lower rate of premature death. For men, the death rate was essentially cut in half for both biological fathers and those who adopted.

Dr. Agerbo’s study doesn’t include the causes of death or make conclusions about the results, but it does seem to represent a link between children, parenting and longevity.

And there’s additional good news for dads. A 2011 study by Dr. Michael Eisenberg at Stanford University and published in Human Reproduction found that fathers were 17% less likely to die from heart disease than childless men. The study doesn’t clearly establish whether or not having kids has a direct impact on heart disease or if other lifestyle or underlying health issues (such as infertility or low testosterone) are involved.

The “Happiness” Factor

Are parents living longer and happier lives than people without children?

Dr. Agerbo’s study doesn’t show any significant differences in the mental health of parents and non-parents. Parents proved to be just as susceptible to mental illness as those who remained childless.

A report by Angus Deaton and Arthur A. Stone published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science echoed these results. This study found the differences between the overall happiness of people without children and parents is next-to-none when removing lifestyle factors like income, education, health and religion.

But recent research by Chris Herbst of Arizona State University and John Ifcher of Santa Clara University suggests that parents today are happier than their non-parent counterparts. In their study titled “The Increasing Happiness of Parents,” they found that since the 1980s, there’s been a negative tendency in adults’ overall happiness. Parents, however, seem to be avoiding this gloomy trend.

Women’s Health

Pregnancy and the hormonal changes it brings may influence a woman’s chance of developing specific types of cancer later in life. Studies show that women who’ve had a full-term pregnancy are at reduced risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers. And their risk of these cancers further declines with subsequent pregnancies. In addition, having more than one pregnancy and giving birth at a young age can also reduce the risk of breast cancer.

So, the next time you think your kids are going to do you in … well, think again.

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