Having 3 or More Children Negatively Impacts Late-Life Cognition: Study – by L. Blair
May 12, 2022
A new study at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and the Robert Butler Columbia Aging Center and Université Paris-Dauphine — PSL, found that having three or more versus two children has a negative effect on late-life cognition.
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. This is the first to study the causal effect of high fertility on late-life cognition.
While recent research has warned of the potential drawbacks of America’s declining fertility rate, a new study has found that having three or more children negatively affects late-life cognition.
“To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first to demonstrate a causal effect of higher fertility on late-life cognition,” researchers Eric Bonsang and Vegard Skirbekk explain in their paper “Does Childbearing Affect Cognitive Health in Later Life? Evidence From an Instrumental Variable Approach” published in Demography, the flagship journal of the Population Association of America.
“We found that having three or more versus two children causes worse late-life cognition in Europe for both men and women. The negative effect of having three or more versus two children is large in magnitude, equivalent in our sample to being 6.2 years older and nearly the same as the cognitive advantage associated with having completed secondary versus primary education,” researchers said.
…Bonsand and Skirbekk said their findings suggest that if Europe reduces the number of people with three or more children, this could lead to better cognitive health in older adults.
…As the study only focused on the impact of having more than two children on late-life cognition, Bonsand and Skirbekk said future studies should examine the impact of having less than two children or none at all on late-life cognition.
They cited studies that suggest that “being childless (compared to having two children) is also related to worse late-life cognition for women.”
“They (other researchers) argue that having children provides a source of interactions and promotes social activities that are associated with better cognitive functioning. However, other aspects of childlessness could have positive consequences for late-life cognitive functioning by posing fewer financial and time constraints during adulthood relative to having children,” Bonsand and Skirbekk said.