Young Fatherhood Tied to Increased Mortality Later in Life

Lara C. Pullen, PhD

August 04, 2015

Young fatherhood is associated with elevated mortality in midlife, according to results from a new study. The results led investigators to suggest that young fathers need support to improve their health and to develop healthy habits, which could improve their children’s lives as well.

"We assessed the possibility that the association between fertility timing and mortality is spurious, in the sense that mortality and timing appear to be associated, because both are determined by family-related social and genetic characteristics. In a first study of its kind, it was shown that young fathers experienced higher midlife mortality than their brothers who became first-time fathers at a median or mean age," write Elina Einiö, PhD, from the Population Research Unit, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki, and colleagues. The investigators published the results of their analysis of the 1950 Finnish census online August 3 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

They used a household-based, 10% sample of fathers born between 1940 and 1950. The investigators followed the fathers from age 45 years until either their death or the end of age 54 years, whichever came first. The register-based data were representative of men across social strata.

Among the entire cohort, the investigators found that men who fathered their first child by age 22 years had 26% higher mortality (hazard ratio [HR], 1.26; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.05 - 1.51) compared with men who fathered their first child at the age of 25 or 26 years. Among those who fathered a first child at ages 22 to 24 years, there was a nonsignificant trend for increased mortality (HR, 1.14; 95% CI, 0.97 - 1.34), independent of adulthood characteristics and the year of birth.

Mortality was 25% lower among men who fathered a first child at ages 30 to 44 years (HR, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.62 - 0.92) than men who fathered a first child at ages 25 to 26 years. Mortality was the same among men who had their first child at ages 27 to 29 years compared with those who fathered a child at 25 or 26 years.

When the authors restricted their analysis to the subset of siblings in the study population in which one of the pair had died (n = 1124), the mortality difference was particularly apparent: The risk was 73% increased among men who fathered their first child before age 22 years (HR, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.18 - 2.54), and there was 63% higher mortality among those who fathered their first child between ages 22 and 24 years (HR, 1.63; 95% CI, 1.16 - 2.30) compared with men who fathered their first child at the age of 25 or 26 years.

Although there was a trend for a reduction in mortality among brothers who fathered their first child later in life (ages 33 - 44 years), the difference was not statistically significant (HR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.53 - 1.14).

The results are consistent with previous studies that showed an inverse relationship between the timing of the first child and later-life mortality. For example, one previous study of men from the United States suggested that age at first birth was positively associated with health. "However, the results from our standard Cox model and those of earlier studies can be biased by early-life characteristics that affect both the timing of a first child and the risk of death," the authors of the current study acknowledge.

They believe, however, that they were able to answer for many of these confounding factors. For example, through their investigation of brothers, they were able to account for unobserved environmental and genetic characteristics that brothers might share during childhood.

Taken together, the results suggest that young fatherhood increases the risk for mortality. The researchers suggest that the results could be explained by the possibility that young men in the 1960s and 1970s might have felt societal pressure to marry pregnant women and become the breadwinner at a young age. Such a life path might have compromised their health.

The authors acknowledge, however, that there may be other characteristics that are shared by early fathers that were not accounted for by the sibling design.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Epidemiol Community Health. Published online August 3, 2015. Full text


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