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Twins and short spaced births linked to premature death among parents

Twins_140-pixelsMothers of twins and parents who have children in quick succession have a greater risk of dying prematurely, new research from LSE shows.

The findings, published this month in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, suggest that the accumulated physical, emotional and financial stresses of raising children close in age could have long-term health implications.

Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and University of Oslo analysed childbirth and mortality risks in Norway over a 30-year period.

The results showed that for parents of two or three children, having them less than 18 months apart was associated with higher mortality risks later in life for both men and women.

The study’s main findings showed:

  • Compared to parents who had gaps of 2-2.5 years between births, women having children less than 18 months apart had a 13 per cent greater chance of dying in mid-life and early old age; for men the risk is even higher – 17 per cent;
  • Mothers of twins were 15 per cent more likely to die prematurely, although this risk was mainly for women who had no further children after the twins – possibly a group who found raising twins particularly stressful;
  • Short intervals between first and second births were associated with greater use of prescription drugs later in life.

Researchers say short term birth intervals are becoming more common due to the trend towards delaying parenthood and also increased use of fertility treatments.

Emily-Grundy62x86According to Professor Emily Grundy from LSE’s Department of Social Policy, the results show that the stresses of closely spaced, frequent births may have longer term implications for parents’ health.

“This is potentially an important public health issue as closely spaced and multiple births are becoming more common. We need to do more research to find out underlying mechanisms and see if they are really causal.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends waiting at least two years from a birth until the next pregnancy.

Previous studies have shown a link between multiple births and high rates of both postnatal depression and divorce.

Professor Grundy says other populations could be expected to show even greater stresses on parents, with more adverse health impacts than Norway, where parental provisions and support services for families are very generous.

Editor’s notes

Professor Grundy can be contacted for interview on 020 7107 5448 or at e.m.grundy@lse.ac.uk, or Candy Gibson, LSE Press Office 020 7955 7440.

The paper “Do short birth intervals have long-term implications for parental health? Results from analyses of complete cohort Norwegian register data” is published online in the July issue of the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Emily Grundy is Professor of Demography in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Her research is focused on the demography of ageing; ageing and health; family support of older people; and intergenerational exchanges.

Øystein Kravdal is a Professor at the Department of Economics, University of Oslo. His main research interests are socioeconomic determinants of fertility/family behaviour and associations between all these factors and health/ mortality.

16 July 2014