Costs and Gains to Postponement: How Changes in the Age of Parenthood Influence the Health and Well-being of Children, the Parents, and Populations

Principal Investigator: Professor Mikko Myrskylä
Research staff: Dr Alice Goisis, Kieron Barclay, Dr Kai Willfuehr

Advanced maternal and paternal ages are associated with a range of negative outcomes for the offspring, and have been estimated to have population-level health effects comparable to those of obesity. We analyse the health and well-being consequences of parental age at birth on both adult offspring and the parents themselves, focusing on three unanswered questions that illustrate both the costs and gains of postponement. Project A asks whether the association between parental age and offspring outcomes is causal. Existing literature overlooks important confounders, yet the reason to care about the association is its potential causality. We analyse large data sets from Europe and the U.S. with innovative methods that allow controlling for unobserved parental characteristics to test the causality of the advanced parental age-offspring outcomes association, and estimate the population-level health impact of fertility postponement using the new causal estimates. Project B analyses the modifying effect of the environment in the parental age-offspring health association. We hypothesize that since health improves over cohorts, postponement of parenthood–which means that the child is born to a later cohort–could improve offspring outcomes. This innovative hypothesis is controversial and has not been tested before. We also analyse how the adverse young parental age effect depends on the macro-level socioeconomic factors. Project C focuses on the implications of postponement of parenthood on parental well-being. Prior work on the timing effects of fertility on the parents has focused on career repercussions. We consider a yet unanalysed but important factor for child outcomes and parental health, the subjective well-being of the parents, and how this subjective well-being responds differentially to parenthood at different age.