Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that by the age of 60, the difference in life expectancy of parents compared to childless adults may be as much as two years.
The researchers tracked the lifespan of Swedish men (704,481) and women (725,290) born between 1911 and 1925, from the age of 60 onwards, using national registry data.
After taking into account influential factors, the risk of death was lower among those who had at least one child, than they were among those who were childless - and more so among men than women.
The study, which ran until the end of 2014, also gathered data on marital status of participants and the number and sex of any children they had.
Age-specific risks of death were calculated and compared for people who had at least one child and for those who were childless.
Individuals were more likely to live longer if they had at least one child. For example, the one year risk of death for an 80-year-old man with a child was 7.4%, compared with 8.3% for a childless man of the same age.
The difference in life expectancy increased with age. So for 80-year-old men the difference is 0.9%, by age 90 this rises to 1.47%.
The same pattern was noted among women. For 60-year-old women the difference was 0.16% compared to 1.10% among 90-year-old women.
“Our finding that the association grew stronger when parents became older is further in agreement with research suggesting that childless people face support deficits only towards the end of life,” the researchers wrote.
The associations were not affected by the sex of the child(ren).
The BMJ noted this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn. Read the full study here.