A new research study finds that people who have had at least one child are more likely to live a bit longer than people who are childless. Some of the news coverage I’ve seen on this story might be making more of this than it should:
Parenthood can help you live longer in older age
Is parenthood an elixir for longevity?
Being a parent makes you live longer
Have scientists discovered the elixir of youth?
None of these reflects the findings of this study accurately. And just how could parenthood be an elixir anyway?
In any study finding a link between two things, it’s important to keep straight the difference between “association” (the observation that two things occurred together) and “causation” (in which one thing directly causes the other thing to happen). This was a study noting an association between parenthood and longer life. It did not prove that parenthood causes longer life — not even close. So, headlines suggesting it did are provocative at best (just to get your attention) and misleading at worst.
What did the study find?
Researchers collected data on everyone born in Sweden between 1911 and 1925 — more than 1.4 million people — and found that, as compared with childless individuals, those who had kids:
- Had a slightly longer life expectancy. By age 60, life expectancy was two years longer for men and 1.5 years longer for women.
- Lived longer well into advanced age. By age 80, life expectancy was still longer: nine months longer for men and seven months longer for women.
- Had a longer life expectancy regardless of the gender of their kids, and regardless of whether the parents were married.
Are these results what you would have expected? You might have thought that parents wouldn’t live as long as those who are childless because parents must endure the inevitable emotional and financial stress of childrearing.
Why should parenthood come with longer life expectancy?
Considering the results of this study, the logical question is, why?
From previous studies and the authors’ speculation, a number of explanations can be offered up:
- People with children tend to have more social interactions (for example, with other parents) than childless people, and higher social contact has long been linked to longer life.
- Children help support their parents in old age. Childless individuals don’t have that advantage.
- Parents may have healthier habits — less smoking, more physical activity, better diets — than those who are childless.
A combination of these or other factors may account for the findings. None of them was specifically studied in this latest research.
Interesting… but, so what?
This new study invites speculation about why parenthood might be accompanied by a longer lifespan and whether it’s true everywhere (rather than reflecting something unique about people born in Sweden in the early 1900s).
But the observations in this research may be more than just interesting. If the reasons parents live longer is that they have more social interaction and receive support from their kids as they age, perhaps we should treat social isolation and childlessness in advanced age as threats to health. Perhaps childless adults should be encouraged to pursue activities that promote social interaction (such as volunteering or joining an exercise group). The expansion of programs that provide support to the isolated elderly could help shrink the gap in longevity between those who have had kids and those who have not.
Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love. Ephesians 3:16-17 NIV
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:24 NIV
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1 NIV
For we live by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7 NIV
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit? Romans 15:13 NIV
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 NIV
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6 NIV
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 NIV
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” John 11:40 NIV
Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:3 NIV
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 NIV
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. Romans 14:1 NIV
But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 1 Timothy 6:11 NIV
For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 1 John 5:4 NIV
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV
I have set my heart on your laws. Psalm 119:30 NIV
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