Do kids take years off you, or does having children keep you young? Scientists have found that it’s more likely to be the latter. A wide-ranging study carried out in Sweden shows that parents are more likely to live longer than people with no children.
Researchers say that the study, which examined the effects of parenthood on people between the ages of 60 and 100, is the first to look at whether the links between parenthood and longevity grow stronger with age. The findings confirm that the benefits of parenthood do become more pronounced in older people, with the effect being greater for men than for women. It was found that the difference in life expectancy between parents and childless people at 60 years old was two years for men and 1.5 years for women.
By the time women with children reach the age of 80, they can expect to live a further 9.5 years, while those without children can expect 8.9 years. For 80-year-old men with children, life expectancy is a further 7.7 years, while those without can expect seven years.
Because parent-child bonds grow stronger with age, researchers suggest that support from adult children may be a big factor in the results. Having social support in old age makes a big difference, as does financial and practical help.
The sex of the children did not affect the results, which would seem to contradict previous research that found daughters are more likely to help parents than sons. It was also found that unmarried people, especially men, showed a stronger benefit, which researchers suggested may be because unmarried people rely more on their children for support than married couples do.
Other suggested explanations for the findings are that some people who don’t have children may have health factors that make them more prone to an earlier death.
Having a child is far from being one of the greatest factors that influences lifespan. The study could only say that there is a correlation between parenthood and longer life, which doesn’t prove that having children is a cause of longer life. The difference in life expectancy isn’t a huge amount either, but it’s significant enough, and on a personal level I’m convinced that having a child has made me healthier.
Becoming a parent has definitely made me pay more attention to my own health. Like most parents, I want to be around for my child, I want to see her grow up. I also want her to be healthy and so I try to show her that healthy food and exercise is a normal part of life. Of course, this doesn’t mean I would be an unhealthy slob if I wasn’t a parent (although I might be) but I do think becoming a parent has made me choose a healthier lifestyle than I would have chosen otherwise. I also think parenthood has a tendency to make people behave more responsibly in general, which could also play a part.
Discovering that parents live longer than non-parents doesn’t surprise me. If anything, given the changes in my own lifestyle, I’m only surprised that the lifespan difference isn’t bigger.