December 6, 2012
Life Expectancy Lower For Childless Couples
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new study from Danish researchers suggests that couples who are unable to conceive a child have a shorter life expectancy than those who do.
In the study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the scientists from Aarhus University looked at data from more than 21,000 couples who underwent IVF treatment between 1994 and 2005. They saw that 15,000 children were born and almost 1,600 were adopted during that time period. Unfortunately, 96 women and 200 men who were included in the study died.
Statistically, the death rate for childless women was four times as high as those who gave birth to their own child, while childless men were twice as likely to meet an early death. These findings caused the researchers to conclude that a couple who cannot conceive is at increased risk of early death.
Study co-author Esben Agerbo, an associate professor at Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark, pointed out that his team simply found a correlation and not a cause-and-effect relationship.
"My best guess is health behaviors," he told WebMD. "When people have kids, they tend to live healthier."
He suggested that having children promotes healthier and more responsible living as parents feel the need to both provide and set an example for their children.
The study also examined the mental health aspects of failing to conceive and found that childless couples were twice as likely to suffer mental illness as those who adopted children.
Some critics pointed out that the study focused on a specific situation and cannot be applied to the larger population.
"People having IVF tend to be desperate for a child, if they are unsuccessful they may be depressed- it may even be this rather than childlessness that is playing a part,” Ingrid Collins, a consultant psychologist, said in comments to BBC News on the study.
"It is complicated and many factors play a part in death rates- people with deep spiritual belief, being married, having a higher social class - these can all help in living longer,” she added.
Other experts pointed out that having children may boost a parent´s will to live in the event of a deadly accident or illness. Many previous studies have shown that a certain psychological mindset can help patients in their battle for life.
"Being childless without a doubt reduces your fight for life,” Helen Nightingale, a clinical psychologist, told the BBC.
"If you draw on cancer as an example - the support of a family, the focus on your children - your grandchildren and the desire to watch how they will turn out drives your psychological resistance to survive,” she said. "You fight for them, people hang on - it shows the power of relationships."
The Danish study´s findings echo those of a 2011 Stanford University study that said childless married men had a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease that they acquired after age 50, than men who had two or more children.
Researchers from that earlier study have suggested a link between the biological mechanism behind the infertility and other health problems.