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How Having Kids Could Affect Your Lifespan

A new Swedish study links having children with living longer in old age.

Sarah Hagi

While being a parent for some may feel like a slow, tantrum-induced death, the fact is that parents live longer than non-parents, at least according to some past studies. New research from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found out that the choice to have children could also affect our lifespans as we age.

Using Swedish census data from over 1.4 million men and women born between the years of 1911 and 1925, researchers found that once people hit 60, both men and women lived slightly longer if they had at least one child. While the sex of children wasn't a factor, childless men lived on average up to 18.4 years past 60, while fathers lives 20.2 years past 60. Childless women were expected to live up to 23.1 years longer after 60, while those with children were expected to live an average of 24.6 years longer. The study concluded that in old age, "the death risk differences between parents and non-parents increased with age of the parent, among both men and women."

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Researchers also couldn't rule out elements for increases and decreases in lifespans. Factors such as health choices, whether or not some were unable to have kids or chose not to reproduce weren't exactly measurable with the use of census data. However they were still able to conclude, "[Our] findings that the association grew stronger when parents became older is further in agreement with research suggesting that childless people face support deficits only towards the end of life."

And though this could seem like those with children may live longer because of familial social support, researchers were surprised to learn it may not be that simple. Speaking to Broadly, head researcher Karin Modig explained the team was shocked to learn that distance between parent and child didn't matter in the way the team had anticipated. "The death risk differences between parents and non-parents was greater if the parents lived far away from their children, while smaller differences in death rates were found when comparing parents living close to their children and non-parents," Modig said.

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Another surprise was that the gender of the child was no obvious factor in the findings, which researchers believe had a lot to do with studying single child families. According to Modig, a single child regardless of gender could take on a "paternal" role— something that may not be the case with families of multiple children.

While the research did find new links between death and having children, Modig believes two ongoing studies can help understand their findings even more. "There are two ongoing follow-up studies where we explore if the presence of children matters more for the risk of becoming diseased." The second study hopes to look into how the behavior of children affects the results of lifespan.