Parenthood is good for your health.
That’s one way of looking at the data in a new study that compares death rates among couples with and without children. After examining data on more than 21,276 Danish couples who tried to get pregnant, researchers calculated that women who gave birth to a child were four times more likely to be alive at the end of the study period compared with women who remained childless. The benefit to men was smaller but still significant — those who fathered children were twice as likely to be alive compared with men who remained childless.
The couples in the study all sought treatment for infertility; some of those who didn’t get pregnant using in vitro fertilization went on to adopt children. These parents also seemed to get a health boost — the mothers in this group were 33% less likely to die compared with women who never had children, and the adoptive fathers were 45% less likely to die.
Previous studies have found a correlation between parenthood and mortality, with the lowest risk of premature death going to couples with two kids. (Of course, everyone has a 100% risk of death in the long run.) But none of this data prove that raising kids is responsible for a longer life.
The authors of the new study, published Wednesday in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, also noted that these data offer a better look at the link between parenthood and health because all of the parents in the study wanted to become parents — that’s why they tried fertility treatments. In other studies, it was possible that childless couples were fundamentally different from parents in ways that influenced their health.
The study also examined the link between parenthood and mental health. It found that couples with their own biological children had the same rates of psychiatric illnesses as childless couples. But mothers and fathers of adopted children saw their risk drop by about half.
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