Another reason to blame your mother

Looking at data from the late 1800s, researchers find that children born to young mothers have double the chance of living to 100.

Topics: Broadsheet, Health, Love and Sex,

My mother sent me this link over the weekend with the cryptic note: “You can thank me later.” Since the story was about research findings that children born to mothers younger than 25 have double the chance of living to age 100, I quickly got her point: My mother had me at age 20. So I’ll thank her now and start thinking more seriously about retirement.

According to Reuters, researchers from the University of Chicago’s Center on Aging combed through U.S. Census data, the Social Security Administration database and genealogical records to find 198 centenarians who were born in the U.S. from 1890 to 1893. Then they looked at family histories to see if they could figure out what predicted such longevity. The husband-and-wife research team of Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova found that the mother’s age seemed to matter, but the father’s did not.

I thought this was merely an interesting correlation to be added to the soup of hypotheses on why some of us live longer than others. That list now includes everything from genetics to consumption of soy and pomegranate juice to the power of Pilates, prayer and positive thinking. In an earlier study, the same researchers added birth order — after finding that first-born children, especially daughters, were much more likely to reach their 100th birthday than their younger siblings. Other factors the researchers found included residing in the Western United States and living on a farm as a child.

So what are we to make of this — especially given that fewer of today’s children will grow up tending livestock? Well, Gavrilov said in a statement to Reuters, the finding on longevity and young mothers “may have important social implications because many women postpone their childbearing to later ages because of career demands.”



Does anyone else find it troubling that sweeping conclusions are being based on some statistical patterns in a sample of fewer than 200 people? And what about the fact that people had children younger in the 19th century anyway? Wouldn’t the data pool be naturally skewed toward younger mothers? (Of course, the researchers acknowledge that their findings require further study.)

And how can they apply those findings today, especially when they consider older mothers to be anyone over 25? So instead of fending off a collective guilt trip, maybe we can applaud all the other benefits that will help today’s kids enjoy a ripe old age — like better cancer treatments and heart medicines or maybe all the education and healthy food our careers will help finance.

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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