If you have more than two kids, this study may not come as a huge surprise, but researchers in the U.S. and France found that having three or more children resulted in lower cognitive function later in life.
The study, published this week in the journal Demography, collected data from adults ages 65 and up across 20 European countries and Israel, all having a minimum of two biological children. The results showed lower cognitive abilities in both men and women. This is the first study of its kind to show causal effects of high fertility on cognitive outputs later in life.
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“Understanding the factors that contribute to optimal late-life cognition is essential for ensuring successful aging at the individual and societal levels — particularly in Europe, where family sizes have shrunk and populations are aging rapidly,” said Vegard Skirbekk, PhD, professor of population and Family health at Columbia Mailman School.
There were several reason cited in the study that links to possible causes. One that that families with three or more kids causes considerable financial burdens by reducing family income. Second, the more children a woman has, the less likely she is to work full-time or maximize her earning potential. Finally, as anyone with kids knows, having children can be stressful, which can negatively impact cognitive functioning. Add to that a general lack of sleep, anxiety, and less time for ourselves, and it can be easy to see why parents of multiples are at risk.
“The negative effect of having three or more children on cognitive functioning is not negligible, it is equivalent to 6.2 years of aging,” said Eric Bonsang, one of the researchers in the study. “Given the magnitude of the effect, future studies on late-life cognition should also examine fertility as a prognosticator alongside more commonly researched predictors, such as education, occupational experiences, physical exercise, and mental and physical health,” added Skirbekk.
Of course, kids bring a great amount of joy as well. But if you’ve ever heard yourself saying, “I feel like I’ve aged ten years,” every time one of your kids celebrates another birthday, you can thank science for validating those feelings.