Portela, M. & Schweinzer, P. (2019) Scientific Reports 9, Article number 2493(2019) [ONS LS]
The main interest of this study is the hypothesis that contact with small children may be beneficial for the parents’ later health and mortality (because of changes in their immune system). For this purpose, we document the relationship of a set of individual characteristics—including parenthood and marital state—and socioeconomic status with an individual’s cause of death. Using a novel and rich data set made available by the Office for National Statistics Longitudinal Study (ONS-LS), which follows 1% of the population of England and Wales along five census waves 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011, our competing risks analysis yields several striking results: (1) Females with children have a 72.5% reduced risk of dying of cancer compared to childless females (for childless females of age 70, this corresponds to a risk of dying of cancer of 1.3% compared to a risk of about 1.3 × 0.275 = 0.4% for females with children). (2) Males have a 171% increased chance of dying of cancer when they are married (e.g., a baseline probability of 1.2% when 75 year old) compared to unmarried males. (3) Females with children have only a 34% risk of dying of heart disease (corresponding to a conditional probability of 0.3% when aged 65) relative to females without children and (4) a 53% chance of dying of infections (i.e., 0.1% at 65 years of age) compared to the risk for females without children. (5) At the same age, married men have an increased expectation of 123% of dying of heart disease (corresponding to an expected death probability of 0.7%) compared to unmarried men. (6) High income and house ownership is always associated with higher survival but less so than having children. While these results document a relationship between the presence of children and mortality, the specific transmission mechanisms remain unclear and we cannot make causality assertions.