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Cognitive Decline A Family Affair?

Three-Plus Children May Stress Out Parents

Parents with kids having fun with laptop in living room

By John Salak –

Parents love their children, but it is common knowledge that having kids is an expensive proposition. In the United States, for example, the cost of raising a middle-class child from birth to 18 years now comes in at about $270,000, according to US News & World Report. This whopping number doesn’t include the cost of a college education or the little loved ones hanging around the home after high school. 

It may be worth it. The cost, however, may not end there. Universities in Europe and the United States teamed up to discover that having children can exact a sizeable psychological toll in later life. The research, in fact, found that having three or more kids versus two children can undermine late-life cognition. 

The negative impact was strongest in Northern Europe where higher fertility decreases a family’s financial resources that are not offset by improved social resources in the area. 

The study by Université Paris-Dauphine (PSL) and two different schools at Columbia University is thought to be the first research effort into the causal effect of high fertility on late-life cognition. Until now most of the focus on late-life cognition centered on issues such as education or occupation. 

“The negative effect of having three or more children on cognitive functioning is not negligible, it is equivalent to 6.2 years of aging,” noted Eric Bonsang, Ph.D., professor of economics at PSL Bonsang.

The research team developed its findings, which were similar for men and women, after examining data from 20 European countries and Israel to understand whether having three or more children versus two children causally affects late-life cognition.

The results showed that having children, especially three or more, can negatively impact late-life cognition in several ways. It incurs considerable financial costs and reduces income that increases the likelihood of families falling below the poverty line. The combined impact can lead to financial worries and uncertainties that may contribute to a parent’s cognitive deterioration.

In addition, parents of larger families experience more stress, have less personal leisure time and may experience sleep deprivation, which can all foster late-life cognitive issues. 

The study did note that larger families do provide some offsetting benefits. The risk of social isolation for parents is reduced later in life. This fosters more social interaction that can help lessen their cognitive decline.

Admittedly, determining the exact impact of any of these factors on late-life cognition is difficult because so many outside influences come into play.

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