Health and parenting
I was intrigued by this story in the Washington Post on Monday, reporting on a study that examined the cost of childbearing on parental health. The researchers took advantage of the huge amount of geneological data collected by the Mormon church, and studied the effects of family size on both parental and child health.
As you’d expect, the odds of dying in childbirth or immediately thereafter rose for women the more children they had borne. But the odds of dying in the next year rose significantly for women even after the first few months, and for men as well. In an online Q and A, the reporter said that the findings held across imputed socioeconomic status, which suggests that it’s not just a matter of having too many mouths to feed. The article suggests that the findings may be a sign of the health impacts of stress. Children in large families were also more likely to die than those in small families, possibly due to inadequate supervision.
I wasn’t surprised to see that children were more likely to die in childhood if one of their parents died before they reached age 5. I was surprised that this finding was so much stronger for maternal death than paternal death. I can see how maternal death would be a disaster for an infant, but my stereotypical image of pioneer families makes me think that loss of a father would be a greater disaster for older children. But there may have been more social support for widows and their children than I imagine. (I also think there may be some bias introduced by the sample design, which is limited to couples who were each married only once; my impression is that both widows and widowers tended to remarry out of simple economic necessity.)
Given both smaller family sizes today and better medical care, I’m not sure if this study has any practical implications today, but I thought it was interesting.