Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Childless women run the risk of earlier death

Childless women run the risk of earlier death and poorer health in later life.

Childless women run the risk of earlier death and poorer health in later life.

A new study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) finds that not only childless women but also mothers of five or more children, teenage mothers and mothers who have children with less than an 18 month gap between births all have higher risks of death and poor health later in life.

Findings are based on a study of three separate datasets of women born from 1911 onwards in Great Britain and the USA. "We already know quite of lot about the impact of a person's very early life or their socio-economic history on health and mortality in later life," explains researcher Professor Emily Grundy of the Centre for Population Studies, School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London. "But, in this study we were able to analyse the long-term health implications of a person's partnership and parenting experiences while taking into account education and other indicators of socio-economic status as well."
. . .
In terms of the influence of partnership on later life health and mortality, this study confirms other research which indicates that marriage provides more health gains for men than women. For men, spending a long time in a stable marriage and avoiding multiple marriages and divorce contributes to long-term health. For women, too, marriage may be better for their health than they currently believe.

I will be the first to question the validity of this. As Vinny, an experienced researcher with statistical know-how, has pointed out, the studies that do not separate out the intentional childless have serious flaws. Including women from an earlier era during which birth control was unavailable or unreliable necessarily means that the infertile will populate the study. Women who are unable to bear children are more likely to have other health problems. Women who have serious health problems which would make bearing or raising a child difficult, or who do not want to pass on genetic probability of these conditions, will also affect the pool.

Correlation does not imply causation!

Even if one were to include a study which focuses solely on the childless by choice, many of these same problems would occur. Those who opt out for health reasons, as above, are only part of the problem. Of the potential pool of women who will not choose to be parents, some will get pregnant accidentally. Those who are infertile, whether aware of it or not, will skew the pool by being represented in greater numbers in the final, childfree population. (Of course, that is not to say all such women will choose to keep the children and be parents, but some will)

We are a far cry from having a conclusive study that shows the choice not to bear children has an adverse affect on one's health. If we were to account for all those above, and segregate out those fertile and choosing not to have children for non-health reasons, we would still be left with a group of women who are more likely to be affluent, and have certain determined personality traits (meaning they're more likely to seek medical help?) The data might therefore skew the other way.

When someone publishes results like these, with out any real medical significance, one must wonder what the motivations are.

Tag:

2 comments:

Devilkitty said...

Hmm. I call bullshit on this. Partly because the title mentions only childless women, yet this sentence in the first paragraph reads: "not only childless women but also mothers of five or more children, teenage mothers and mothers who have children with less than an 18 month gap between births all have higher risks of death and poor health later in life."

And partly because there needs to be more detail as to why the women are childless. If women don't have kids because they can't due to health issues, that's completely different from women not having kids BY CHOICE. There needs to be more specific data.

ChrisR said...

My thoughts exactly - misleading headline or what?!?!?!