Researchers have crunched the numbers on the life expectancy of both parents and non-parents, and they concluded having at least one child can stave off death for at least a year or so in your old age – an effect that becomes more pronounced the older you get.
For some time, we have known that having kids seems to make you live longer, especially if you have them early in life.
But, why this happens? Nobody knows that, so a team of researchers from Karolinska Institute in Sweden broke down the statistics of elderly parents and analysed how having a child affects a person’s chances of seeing another birthday.
The team looked at more than 700,000 men and 725,000 women born between 1911 and 1925 who also happened to be living in Sweden at the age of 60, and identified which had children, which were educated, which were married, and when they died.
Unsurprisingly, as each individual got older, their risk of dying went up.
But they also found that having children reduced this risk by a small fraction – childless men aged 60 could expect to live another 18.4 years, while having at least one kid bumped it up to another 20.2 years.
For women, being a mother at age 60 added about a year and a half to their life, increasing it from 23.1 to 24.6 more years of existence.
The dads who made it to 80 could look forward to another 7.7 years on average, while men without a child had only another 7.
Eighty-year-old mums, on the other hand, could gamble on 9.5 more years – about 7 months more than childless women, who averaged another 8.9 years.
The statistics didn’t show any specific advantage of having one gender over another, although other studies have indicated that in other cultures.
One thing the researchers noticed was that as the years went by, it seemed that men were getting the better deal.
“The finding of a stronger association for men than for women is in line with a previous study where contact with children was associated with better health among parents, and more so for men than for women,” the researchers wrote .
When combined with their finding that this effect was greater among unmarried men, it seems that having kids offers health-promoting support in old age.
Throwing education into the mix also hints at an interesting hypothesis.
“Another possible explanation to the greater mortality difference among men may be that childless men are generally lower educated than men with children, whereas the opposite is true for women,” says the researchers.
The study does not give the reason why parents seem to live a little longer than non-parents, but it does show us that children offer healthcare support, advice, and stimulation as their folks go into their twilight years.
But in discovery made by the researchers we can conclude it makes no difference if your child happens to live close by. In fact, the results appear to go the other way – having children live far away adds a little extra to your life.
The researchers admit their inclusion of geographical data was rather crude, and referred to previous research that suggests educated children tended to move further away from home, but also correlated with longer lives for their parents.
Education and a helping hand in old age won’t necessarily see you avoid an early grave, but every little bit can help stack the odds in your favour as time ticks by.
“In terms of all other causes that would affect your death risk in these old ages, having a child is not among the greatest ones,” researcher Karin Modig told Nicola Davis from The Guardian.