Home Family & Relationship Early-Life Diseases Strongly Impact Lifetime Childlessness, According to Study

Early-Life Diseases Strongly Impact Lifetime Childlessness, According to Study

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A comprehensive study has highlighted the significant influence of early-life diseases on lifetime childlessness, revealing notable sex-specific differences. An international team of researchers conducted the study, which provided insights into how various diseases affect the likelihood of remaining childless by utilising extensive national data from Finland and Sweden.

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, examined the health and reproductive histories of over 2.5 million individuals born between 1956 and 1973 in Finland and Sweden. By analysing the association between 414 diseases across 16 categories and childlessness, the researchers identified several critical findings.

Mental-behavioural disorders, such as schizophrenia and acute alcohol intoxication, exhibited stronger associations with childlessness in men than in women. Conversely, diseases like diabetes and congenital anomalies have a more pronounced effect on women. These differences are attributed to variations in disease severity, diagnostic biases, partner history, and biological impacts on fertility .

The age at which a disease is first diagnosed plays a significant role in its impact on childlessness. Diseases diagnosed between ages 21 and 25 in women and between 26 and 30 in men showed the strongest associations with childlessness. This aligns with the typical age of union formation, which tends to occur later in men.

The study identified new associations between childlessness and diseases such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and myocarditis. Treatments for some of these conditions, like methotrexate, are known to have adverse effects on fertility in women.

Childless individuals were found to be twice as likely to be single. According to the researchers, partnership formation mediated 29.3% of the disease’s effect on childlessness in women and 37.9% in men. Mental-behavioural disorders, particularly in men, were strongly linked to singlehood, which in turn influenced their likelihood of remaining childless.

Lower educational attainment was associated with higher levels of childlessness, especially among men. The researchers adjusted for educational differences in their analyses and found significant changes in odds ratios for many diseases.

The findings underscore the complex interplay between health, social factors, and childlessness. They suggest that public health interventions aimed at reducing childlessness should consider these multifaceted influences. For instance, addressing mental health issues and providing better support for those with chronic illnesses could help mitigate the risk of involuntary childlessness.

The study’s strengths include its large sample size and the use of high-quality nationwide registers, providing comprehensive coverage of health and reproductive information. The inclusion of both men and women allowed for a detailed comparison of disease effects between sexes. Additionally, the matched-sibling design helped control for unmeasured familial factors.

But the study also had limitations. Disease diagnoses were primarily obtained from secondary and tertiary healthcare registers, potentially missing less severe cases treated in primary care. The study population was limited to individuals born between 1956 and 1973, which may not fully represent more recent cohorts due to changing reproductive and partnering practices and advancements in medical treatments.

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