Having kids adds years to your life, says a study by researchers at the University of Denmark. According to NBC, the startling findings support other research that shows childless couples don’t live as long as parents. People who tried but failed to have children are two to four times more likely to die young than parents.
Instead of the kids being the death of you, having kids may increase behaviors and induce physiological changes that result in years being added to your lifespan. This study looked at people who either adopted children or had them through fertility treatments.
“Several previous studies have found strong associations between childlessness and psychiatric illness,” said Esben Agerbo of Aarhus University in Denmark. “I think that our study is superior, because it is only based on people who want to have children, whereas previous research included everybody.”
Denmark’s national health system, which offered the first three cycles of vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment for free until 2010, keeps a detailed and complete system of medical records. Agerbo looked at data on 21,276 childless couples who registered for IVF treatment between 1994 and 2005.
Four times as many women who did not have children died as women who had or adopted a child, Agerbo’s team found. Death rates were twice as high among the men who did not have children. What could be the reason for the mortality rates being higher with the childless?
“Parents are less likely to die from accidents, circulatory diseases, cancer, and external causes — thus I suggest a behavioral difference,” Agerbo says. “Our study was not large enough to say whether suicide was less common among parents, but the rate of accidents is higher among non-parents — perhaps I am more prone to buy a big motorcycle or a fast car than family-friendly slow van.”
Having children not only changes the way you live but also the way you think. Parents who ended up adopting children were half as likely to be diagnosed with mental illness. The hypothesis is that since “stress is linked to disease, and perhaps non-parents are more stressed.” Stress is known to suppress the immune system. In fact, women undergoing IVF who also had stress reduction therapy were more likely to get pregnant.
The study wasn’t designed to show why parenthood might help prevent premature death. There are so many factors that can influence the eventual outcome, but at least now we know that in general having kids can add years to your life.