Research suggests the more children people have, the poor health outcomes they experience.
Raising children is a rewarding but challenging journey. A recent study conducted in 24 countries worldwide suggests that the number of children one has may impact their physical and mental health, even after the kids leave the nest. Researchers from various universities, including the University of Rhode Island (URI) in the USA and the University of Padua in Italy, recently conducted a comprehensive study to explore the potential relationship between the number of children and various health indicators in older adults.
The study aimed to address the global phenomenon of population aging and to provide insights into how the number of children might influence an individual’s health in their later years. Dr. Nekehia Quashie, an assistant professor of health studies at URI and one of the study’s authors, said, “There are multiple studies that look at the connection between children and an aspect of health or life expectancy. While various aspects of health have been studied, there are few studies that look at this relationship across various nations and we are aware of none that compare multiple dimensions of health across multiple countries.”
The researchers analyzed data from 166,739 adults aged 50 and over in 24 countries from 1992 to 2017. They focused on five key health indicators: self-rated health, depression, chronic conditions, activities of daily living, and instrumental activities of daily living.
The findings, published in The Journals of Gerontology, revealed that having more children was associated with poorer health outcomes later in life, particularly in the case of chronic conditions and depression. Participants with the most children were at a higher risk of depression in half of the countries studied and faced a higher risk of chronic diseases in 11 of the 24 countries.
Interestingly, there was a twist when it came to self-rated health. In six countries, including China, Estonia, France, Israel, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, adults aged 50 and over with fewer children were likelier to report poor self-rated health. That data suggests that having multiple kids may impact an individual’s self-assessment of their health in these countries.
The researchers noted that there were significant disparities between countries. In the United States, the link between having multiple kids and the health of individuals aged 50 and over was weak. In contrast, countries like Greece, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Czech Republic showed that participants with four or more children were more likely to experience health issues related to multiple health indicators.
Dr. Quashie emphasized that while children can provide support as individuals age, they also bring various challenges throughout one’s life. The study’s findings raise the need for further research to understand the mechanisms behind this association and provide a more universal perspective.
The study also highlighted the role of cultural values, social infrastructure, and localized conditions in shaping the relationship between family size, multiple kids, and health outcomes. In countries with robust formal support systems, people may rely less on their children for support and instead turn to social networks or friends.
Overall, the research suggests that the number of children one has can influence their health in later life. Still, this relationship is complex and varies by country. While having a larger family may offer more potential support as one ages, it can also bring certain strains. Experts say further research is necessary to unravel the specific mechanisms behind this connection and to provide a clearer understanding of how family size impacts health in later years.