Children of old women healthier?

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Young mothers' offspring suffer significantly more often from health problems

The younger the mother, the sicker the offspring, according to the surprising result of a study by researchers from the Rostock Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR). As the researchers led by Mikko Myrskylä found when examining the medical data of 18,000 US citizens, the children of older mothers are by no means more sick later in life than the children of younger women.

Instead of the age of the mothers when their children were born, the level of education and the life span that mothers and children still spend together are of far greater importance for the health of the offspring, according to the Rostock researchers. Her study refuted the previous assumption that older mothers have negative consequences for children's health. Although the "likelihood of miscarriages and diseases such as Down's syndrome in advanced maternal age" increases, "" early births seem to be more of a concern for children than adolescence, "the MPIDR scientists report. In summary, it can be said that children who are born before the mother turns 25, are later ill, die earlier, become less tall and are more likely to be overweight.

Health of the children of old mothers not worse off So far, the assumption was that “the adult offspring of mothers giving birth at a later date are sick more often because the woman's body had already broken down at the time of birth - for example because the age of the egg cells became worse or the placenta weaker are, ”explains the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. The demographer Mikko Myrskylä has now got to the bottom of these assumptions on the basis of data from more than 18,000 Americans. Like most comparable studies, Mikko Myrskylä's analysis was based on birth figures from the early 20th century. These numbers actually suggest that the health of older women’s children is worse. However, this statistical connection is based on an "apparent effect" that does not decrease due to the age of the mothers, but rather their level of education and the life span still experienced together with the child.

Level of education and common life span crucial for children's health
At the beginning of the 20th century, according to the Rostock scientist, less educated women in particular had children at an older age. In addition, people's life expectancy was significantly shorter at the time, and old mothers spent a much shorter life span with their child. The level of education of the mothers and at what age the child loses the mother are, however, of crucial importance for the health of the children. If the figures were adjusted for these two effects, the health of the children of older mothers was by no means worse than that of young mothers, explains the Rostock demographer. Without the adjustment, the offspring of 35- to 44-year-old mothers seemed to get over ten percent more illnesses than those of 25- to 34-year-olds, reports Mikko Myrskylä.

Early loss of mother makes children sick In the adjusted data, the disease effect shrank to less than five percent and lost its statistical significance. "The harmful effect of increasing age for mothers up to 45 years of age virtually dissipates," says the Rostock Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. "Our data suggests that what at first glance looks like the negative influence of an advanced mother's age is an apparent effect that actually shows what level of education the mother has and at what age the child loses the mother," explained Myrskylä. The earlier a child lost its mother, the sicker it became later, which the Rostock researcher attributes to the "psychological shock caused by the early loss of the mother". A negative health effect of the early loss of the mother could also result from the fact that the children received less economic and social support.

Children of young mothers with significantly larger health problems The Rostock demographer painted a worrying picture for the children of younger mothers. According to his calculations, the children of younger women have health problems much more often later in life. "The children of 20 to 24 year old mothers suffered from five percent more illnesses than those of 25 to 34 year olds," reports Mikko Myrskylä. In the children of 14 to 19-year-old women, the researcher even recorded 15 percent more illnesses. These results are “significant, and do not change if the mother's level of education or other confounding factors are excluded.” The triggers of the apparent effect in the statistics have also been put into perspective over the past century. Today, more educated women tend to have older children and due to the generally higher life expectancy, the children do not have to expect an early loss of the mother, despite being born later. (fp)

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