Summary: Having three or more children was associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline later in life.
Source: Colombia University
A new study from Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, Robert Butler Columbia Aging Center and Université Paris-Dauphine—PSL found that having three or more children rather than two has a negative effect on cognition at the end of life.
The results further indicated that this effect was strongest in Northern Europe, where higher fertility decreases financial resources but does not improve social resources in this region. He is the first to study the causal effect of high fertility on cognition at the end of life.
So far, fertility has not received much attention as a potential predictor of late-life cognition compared to other factors, such as education or occupation.
The results are published in the journal Demography.
“Understanding the factors that contribute to optimal cognition at the end of life is critical to ensuring successful aging at individual and societal levels, especially in Europe, where family sizes have declined and populations are aging rapidly,” Vegard said. Skirbekk, Ph.D., professor of population and family health at Columbia Mailman School.
“For individuals, end-of-life cognitive health is essential to maintaining independence and being socially active and productive at end-of-life. health care costs and needs,” said Eric Bonsang, Ph.D., professor of economics at Université Paris-Dauphine—PSL.
Researchers analyzed data from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) to examine the extent to which having three or more children versus two children causally affects cognition in end of life.
SHARE surveys representative samples of older populations in 20 European countries and Israel, including Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Participants were aged 65 or older and had at least two biological children.
Based on advanced econometric methods capable of unraveling the causality of simple associations, evidence suggests that having three or more children versus two children is linked to poorer cognition in later life. They also found that this effect is similar for men and women.
Fertility can affect cognition at the end of life via several pathways. First, having an extra child often entails considerable financial costs, reduces family income and increases the likelihood of falling below the poverty line, thus lowering the standard of living of all family members and potentially causing worry and hardship. financial uncertainties, which could contribute to cognitive deterioration.
Second, having an extra child is causally linked to women’s lower labor force participation, fewer hours worked, and lower earnings. In turn, participation in the labor market – relative to retirement – positively affects the cognitive functioning of both men and women.
Third, having children decreases the risk of social isolation in older people, which is a key risk factor for cognitive impairment and dementia, and often increases the level of social interaction and support, which may protect against cognitive decline in later life.
Finally, having children can be stressful, affect health risk behaviors and impair cognitive development in adults. Parents with more children may experience more stress, have less time to relax, and engage in cognitively stimulating leisure activities. This may involve sleep deprivation for the parent.
“The negative effect of having three or more children on cognitive functioning is not negligible, equivalent to 6.2 years of aging,” Bonsang noted. It suggests that the decreasing proportion of Europeans having three or more children may have positive implications for the cognitive health of the elderly population.
“Given the magnitude of the effect, future studies of end-of-life cognition should also examine fertility as a prognosticator alongside more commonly researched predictors, such as education, work experiences, life exercise and mental and physical health,” observed Skirbekk.
“In addition, future studies should address the potential effects of childlessness or having a child on late-life cognition. We also need more information about the types of interactions, supports and conflicts that occur between parents and children, which can influence cognitive outcomes.
About this cognitive research news
Original research: Free access.
“Does motherhood affect cognitive health later in life? Evidence for an instrumental variable approach” by Eric Bonsang et al. Demography
Does motherhood affect cognitive health later in life? Evidence for an instrumental variable approach
Cognitive decline is a widespread concern as populations age. However, population aging is partly due to declining fertility, and family size may influence cognitive functioning later in life. Previous studies have shown that fertility history is associated with late-life cognition, but whether the relationship is causal remains unclear.
We use an instrumental variable approach and data from the Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe to examine whether having three or more children or two affects late-life cognition.
Parents often prefer to have at least one son and one daughter. We thus exploit the composition by sex of the first two children as a source of exogenous variation in the probability of having three or more children.
The results indicate that having three or more children rather than two has a negative effect on cognition at the end of life. This effect is strongest in Northern Europe, perhaps because higher fertility decreases financial resources but does not improve social resources in this region.
Future studies should address the potential effects of childlessness or having a child on cognition at the end of life and explore mediating mechanisms.
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