Having A Large Family Size Impacts Cognition In Old Age: Study

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Family Size May Affect Late-life Cognition News

Brain News

A group of international researchers explored the causal effects of high fertility and large family size on late-life cognition. The findings are published in the journal Demography.

The Study

The research team was drawn from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the Robert Butler Columbia Aging Center, and the Université Paris-Dauphine. They analyzed data from the recent Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) which contained representative samples from 20 European countries and Israel. The participants were aged 65 and above and had two or more children.

The Findings

The results revealed that high fertility and a larger family size cause a decline in cognitive abilities in later life, for both men and women. In fact, the impact occurs via several pathways, including:

  • Financial burden and uncertainty
  • Stressful and erratic lifestyles
  • Decrease in the living standards of all family members
  • Reduction in women’s lower labor market participation
  • Enhanced health risk behaviors like sleep deprivation, low nutrition, etc.

Debatable Results

The researchers are enthusiastic that the findings of the study can ensure successful aging at both the individual and the societal levels.

In the words of one of the lead researchers, Eric Bonsang, “[for] individuals, late-life cognitive health is essential for maintaining independence and being socially active and productive in late life. For societies, ensuring the cognitive health of the older population is essential for extending work lives and reducing health care costs and care needs.”

However, the researchers also agreed that, in some cases, high fertility decreases the risks of dementia and reduced cognitive functioning in later life. For instance, having a large number of children decreases the risk of social isolation and raises the level of social interaction and support. This positively affects late-life cognition.

To Know More, You May Refer To

Bonsang, E., & Skirbekk, V. (2022). Does Childbearing Affect Cognitive Health in Later Life? Evidence From an Instrumental Variable Approach. Demography, 9930490. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1215/00703370-9930490

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