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Parents live longer than people who don’t have children, study suggests | UK News

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People who have kids live longer than those who remain childless, an academic study has suggested.

Researchers believe it is because adults’ immune systems are “refreshed” when toddlers go to nursery and start picking up infections.

During the course of someone’s life, their immune system can become weaker.

But when kids start bringing infections home, their mums and dads’ immune systems get a workout.

Non-parents – unless they are teachers or nurses perhaps – do not get the same exposure to infection.

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Miguel Portela and Paul Schweinzer said parents had less risk of dying from infection than non-parents, and if they did, it was about five years later.

They describe their theory as the “parental co-immunisation hypothesis”, saying that “a parent’s immune system is refreshed by a child’s infections at a time when their own protection starts wearing thin”.

They add: “With this boosted immune system, the parent has a better chance to fend off whatever infections might strike when old and weak and parenthood is rewarded in individual terms through an improved immunisation against infections.”

Data was gathered from the UK census, covering 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011.

Parent and child
Image:
Data was gathered from the UK census

Naturally there are other reasons why some people live longer than others – but they may not trump becoming a parent.

The academics say that “high income and house ownership is always associated with higher survival but less so than having children”.

Mr Portela and Mr Schweinzer admit their research is far from complete, saying that while their results “document a relationship between the presence of children and mortality, the specific transmission mechanisms remain unclear and we cannot make causality assertions”.

They “acknowledge the presence of other, perhaps behavioural, factors in parents which result in changed mortality compared to individuals without children”

The pair add: “While the relationships of lifestyle choices such as smoking, obesity, drinking, and other behavioural factors with life expectancy and causes of death are well studied and understood, the same cannot be said for the individual decision to become a parent.”

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