You may feel as though raising kids would take years off your life, but having children may actually increase your life span, according to a new study from Sweden.
Researchers found that, among older adults, those who had children lived longer than those who remained childless. For example, the researchers calculated that, at age 60, men with children were expected to live another 20.2 years, while men without children were expected to live 18.4 more years. Among 60-year-old women, those with children were expected to live another 24.6 years, while those without children were expected to live 23.1 more years, the researchers calculated.
The findings suggest that the social support that children give to their aging parents may contribute to a longer life span, the researchers said.
Previous studies have found a link between parenthood and a longer life span, but few studies have examined this link in people over age 60, according to the researchers. [Extending Life: 7 Ways to Live Past 100]
In the new study, the researchers analyzed information from more than 700,000 men and 725,000 women who were living in Sweden and were born between 1911 and 1925. The participants were followed from age 60 until their death, or until the year 2014 (whichever came first).
About three-quarters of the participants had at least one child, and three-quarters were married, at age 60.
Not surprisingly, the participants' risk of death increased with age. But after taking into account a number of other factors, including participants' levels of education, the researchers found that the risk of death was lower for people who had at least one child, compared with those who were childless.
For example, the risk of death over a one-year period for an 80-year-old man with at least one child was 7.4 percent, compared with 8.3 percent for an 80-year-old man without a child.
This gap in the absolute risk of death got bigger with increasing age, and was somewhat larger for men than for women, the researchers said.
For example, at age 60, the risk of death over a one-year period was 1.41 percent for men without children, and 1.35 percent for men with at least one child — a difference of 0.06 percentage points. By age 90, the risk of death over a one-year period was 17.7 percent for men without children, and 16.2 percent for men with at least one child — a difference of 1.5 percentage points.
For women at age 60, the risk of death over a one-year period was 0.68 percent for those without children, and 0.52 percent for those with at least one child — a difference of 0.16 percentage points. For women at age 90, the risk of death over a one-year period was 11.4 percent for women without children, and 10.3 percent for women with at least one child — a difference of 1.1 percentage points. [8 Tips for Healthy Aging]
The researchers also found that the association between having children and living longer was stronger for people who were unmarried at the time of the study. This finding suggests that unmarried people, particularly men, may rely more heavily on their children in the absence of a spouse, the researchers said.
"That the association increased with parents' age and was somewhat stronger for the nonmarried may suggest that social support is a possible explanation" for the link between parenthood and a longer life span, the researchers said.
However, the study could not completely rule out other possible explanations for the link. For example, it's possible that parents may practice healthier behaviors than nonparents, they said.
The study is published online today (March 14) in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Original article on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.