Becoming a parent cuts the risk of early death, particularly among women, a new study suggests.
Contrary to popular belief amongst some parents that having children shortens their lives, the reverse appears to be true, according to a follow-up study of 21,276 couples in Denmark registered for IVF treatment.
The early death rate from circulatory disease, cancers, and accidents amongst women who remained childless was four times as high as that amongst those who subsequently gave birth to their own child, and 50% lower among women who adopted, the study published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed.
Similarly, rates of death were around twice as high among men who did not become parents, either biologically or through adoption.
Rates of mental ill health were similar between couples with or without children of their own, with the exception of those with drug and alcohol problems.
But the prevalence of mental illness in couples who adopted children was around half that of other parents.
The researchers based their findings on data from population registers in Denmark on births and deaths, assisted conception (IVF) procedures, hospital admissions, psychiatric service contacts, and labour market statistics for the period from 1994 to 2008.
Between 1994 and 2005, 21,276 childless couples were registered for IVF treatment with 15,210 children born and 1,564 adopted.
The authors said the findings for parents who adopted could reflect the fact that prospective parents' health and economic conditions were assessed by the National Adoption Board in Denmark. They noted too, that the rate of adoption was higher amongst affluent parents.
Wealthy people might have had more of a chance of conceiving a child by buying treatment sessions in private clinics, they noted. As affluent people tend to live longer and experience less psychiatric illness, this might have affected the outcome, they said.
The study is presumed to be the first to use the outcome of IVF treatment as a natural experiment to investigate the impact of childlessness on death rates and psychiatric illness, the authors said.
"Mindful that association is not causation, our results suggest that the mortality rates are higher in the childless," the authors, from Aarhus University in Denmark concluded.
"Rates of psychiatric illness do not appear to vary with childlessness, but the rate of psychiatric illness in parents who adopt is decreased."