Stockholm university

Lower mortality risks for parents of young children

The age of the youngest child impacts parental mortality, with a significant survival advantage observed for parents of newborns due to both selection and behavioral changes, while controlling for parental age. This is revealed by a Swedish study published in the scientific journal Genus.

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A novel study conducted by researchers in Sweden has discovered a link between the age of the youngest child and the mortality risks of parents. The study, which analyzed the parental mortality patterns by the age of the youngest child, concluded that Swedish mothers and fathers of young children have significantly lower mortality risks compared to parents with older children, when controlling for parental age. This effect can be attributed to both selection and behavioral changes in parents of younger children.

According to the study, parents of newborns experience a survival advantage for all causes of death as compared to parents of the same age with older children. This advantage is more pronounced for external causes of death, such as accidents, and suicide – two causes which are primarily triggered by behavioral and lifestyle factors, such as smoking and alcohol.

“Our findings support earlier studies that found that having a young child leads to a substantial decrease in risky behavior and lifestyles, which contributes to the reduction in mortality risks observed in our study,” says Sven Drefahl, one of the researchers at the Demography Unit at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University.

The researchers also noted the importance of selection effects in explaining the reduced mortality risks for parents of young children, particularly in terms of cancer mortality. Parents with long-term illnesses, such as cancer, may postpone childbearing, which results in a selection effect contributing to the observed survival advantage.


Advantages also for men

In this study, the researchers compared parents with older children to parents with younger children while controlling for parental age, ensuring that the observed differences in mortality risks are not confounded by age. This allows for a more accurate understanding of the impact of the age of the youngest child on parental mortality risks.

The study also highlighted the importance of investigating the effects on fathers, a demographic that has been often overlooked in previous research. The researchers found that Swedish men, like their female counterparts, also experience a survival advantage when their child is young. This finding is particularly significant in the context of Sweden's gender-egalitarian culture, where men are heavily involved in raising their children.

“We hypothesized that the effect of the age of the youngest child on parents would be less pronounced for fathers due to biological differences and traditional gender roles. However, our results indicate that Swedish men are also positively impacted by their involvement in raising their children, experiencing similar survival advantages”, says Eleonora Mussino, researcher at the Demography Unit at the Department of Sociology, Stockholm University.


Should prioritize behavioral changes

The study's findings have important implications for promoting positive behavioral changes.

“Encouraging behaviors such as smoking cessation should be a priority, as there are clear advantages not only for the children but also for parental health and mortality, even in the short term,” Sven Drefahl empshasizes.

In conclusion, the study's results provide valuable insight into the relationship between parenthood and mortality risks, highlighting the role of both selection and behavioral changes.

“Our research supports the popular Italian belief that 'Little children, little trouble; big children, big trouble,' by providing scientific evidence for the survival advantages experienced by parents of young children due to selection and positive lifestyle transformations, while controlling for parental age,” says Elonora Mussino.

The article How does the age of the youngest child affect parental survival? is published in the scientific journal Genus.

Read more about Sven Drefahl's research.

More about Elonora Mussino's research.