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Monday 17th June 2019

Childlessness linked to early death

7th December 2012

Researchers in Denmark say that people who want to have children, but who cannot, are at greater risk of an early death than parents.


Writing in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, the researchers found that the link was particularly marked for women who had been unsuccessful at conceiving.

The study used data from more than 21,000 couples who had sought to conceive via in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), and noticed that the risk of premature death was four times higher among women who had failed to conceive than among women who had children.

However, the risk was very low in the first place, and only 316 people died during the study, which lasted for 11 years.

The study authors, from Aarhus University, said they also remained aware that an association was not the same as showing a causal relationship. This means that childlessness does not necessarily cause early death.

The data in the study dated from 1994-2005, and was sourced from population registries in Denmark which keep details of births, deaths and IVF procedures.

A total of 15,149 children were born to the 21,276 childless couples who registered for IVF treatment. Of that group, 96 women and 220 men died.

The researchers concluded that having a child cut the risk of early death, particularly among women.

The women who died in the study had circulatory disease, cancers, or were involved in accidents.

According to consultant psychologist Ingrid Collins, the findings from the study could not be extrapolated to draw conclusions about the population as a whole.

She said that people who had got as far as IVF clinics could be suffering the strain of unsuccessful attempts to have children, and might have underlying depression.

She said it was merely speculation to suggest that not having a child caused the deaths.

She said death rates were a complicated phenomenon, and that whether people were married, their level of social privilege, their spiritual beliefs, if any, could all play a part in how long a person lived.

But clinical psychologist Helen Nightingale said that a family could help people with terminal illnesses live longer, because they were more likely to want to stick around to see their families grow.

She said people who had children and grandchildren increased a person's psychological resistance to dying, and that relationships were powerful factors in a person's desire to live.

The study found the level of mental health problems did not vary greatly between those with children and those without, although couples who adopted had half the rate of mental illness that parents had.

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