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Why I disagree with study findings that “being a parent makes you live longer”

By Nina Steele 

Childlessness in old ageAll it took for me to be skeptical about the new findings that suggest that “being a parent makes you live longer” compared to a childless person, was to read some of the facts that led the researchers to come to that conclusion. One of them is that: “children can provide support in navigating the healthcare system, how to take medication, providing emotional support”. Additionally, the children of those who took part in the study are said to “live close to their parents” and that “only a small proportion live far away”. As someone who worked for an old people’s charity for 8 years, I can say unreservedly that this is not my experience of old age today.

The idea that those with children have an advantage because the children will be there for them in old age, is one of the many myths about parenthood that has unfortunately helped reinforce the idea that being childless is inherently wrong. What I saw time and time again in my former job was that, having children these days makes no difference at all. If anything, it can make things worse because of dashed dreams and expectations once the elderly person comes to the realisation that their children are too busy living their own lives to be there for them. And unlike the findings, in my experience, the proportion of elderly people with children living nearby is far from great.

The findings of this research seem to me like a throwback to a time that no longer exists. And don’t just take my word for it. Not a month goes by these days without stories about the increasing number of elderly people who say that they are lonely, despite the majority of them having children. Loneliness has not only been found to be bad for the overall health of elderly people, it is also said to “increase the likelihood of mortality by 26%”. The damage to health is said to be the equivalent of “smoking 15 cigarettes a day”.

All in all, what I have found is that, not having children make people plan for old age in a way that those with children don’t often do. As a result, loneliness is what many parents end up facing in old age. With that in mind, a talk of increased life expectancy for parents simply does not add up.

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