How fatherhood before 25 raises early death risk
BECOMING a father before the age of 25 raises the risk of dying early in middle age, scientists have discovered.
The stress and financial burden of trying to look after a young family has a long term impact on the health of young fathers, research suggests.
The research was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
While on average a man has one in 20 chance of death between the ages of 45 and 54, the risk rises by up to 73 per cent for men who had children aged 22 compared with those who fathered their first child at 25 or later.
The major causes of death were heart disease and diseases related to excess alcohol.
“The findings of our study suggest that the association between young fatherhood and mid life mortality is likely to be causal,” said Dr Elina Einiö, of the Population Research Unit, at the University of Helsinki, Finland.
“The association was not explained by unobserved early life characteristics shared by brothers or by certain adult characteristics known to be associated both with fertility timing and mortality.
“The findings of our study provide evidence of a need to support young fathers struggling with the demands of family life in order to promote good health behaviours and future health.”
Researchers studied 30,500 men born between 1940 and 1950 who became fathers by the age of 45. They were then tracked from 45 until 54.
During the 10 year monitoring period around 1 in 20 of the men died.
Men who were fathers by the time they were 22 had a 26 per cent higher risk of death in mid-life than those who had fathered their first child when they were 25 or 26. Similarly, men who had their first child between the ages of 22 and 24 had a 14 per cent higher risk of dying in middle age.
At the other end of the scale, those who became fathers between the ages of 30 and 44 had a 25 per cent lower risk of death in middle age than those who fathered their first child at 25 or 26.
The risk of death for men fathering their first child between the ages of 27 and 29 was the same as that of men in the reference group.
In a sample of 1124 siblings, brothers who had become dads by the age of 22 were 73 per cent more likely to die early than their siblings who had fathered their first child at the age of 25 or 26.
Similarly, those who entered parenthood at 22 to 24 were 63 per cent more likely to die in mid-life.
Although having a child as a young adult is thought to be less disruptive for a man than it is for a woman, taking on the combined role of father, partner and breadwinner may cause considerable psychological and economic stress for a young man and deprive him of the ability to invest in his own well-being, the researchers concluded.
However Kevin McConway, Professor of Applied Statistics at The Open University, said it was important to be cautious about the findings.
“This is a good study using a large amount of data. But we’ve got to be very careful about what it is telling us, and particularly about what it might imply about how to support fathers in the future.
“One problem is that it is an observational study and it’s always hard to work out what is causing what from observational studies. The authors are careful in their wording, and don’t go further than saying that the findings suggest the association between young fatherhood and midlife mortality is likely to be causal.
The basic problem is that we can’t be sure whether it is the early fatherhood causing the increased mortality, in that if the young fathers had started their families later in life but nothing before that changed, then fewer of them would have died in middle age. Maybe there is something else that caused them to have children when they were young, and independently caused more of them to die in middle age.”