Certain diseases that occur early in life increase the risk of unwanted lifelong childlessness in women and men. This also applies, for example, to some mental illnesses and diseases related to diabetes.
A new study involving experts from the University of Oxford analyzed the association between 414 diseases and subsequent childlessness using nationwide registers from Sweden and Finland. The results are published in the specialist journal “Nature Human Behavior”.
Are early illnesses and childlessness linked?
In general, according to the researchers, the percentage of people who remain childless over the course of their lives is around 25 percent for men and around 20 percent for women. The new study should now clarify whether individual illnesses are related to childlessness.
The team used data from all men born in Sweden and Finland between 1956 and 1968 and all women born from 1956 to 1973. Medical data were taken into account up to the end of the reproductive lifespan, which was defined as age 45 for women and age 50 for men.
Psychological behavioral disorders promote childlessness
Based on nationwide registers, sociodemographic and reproductive information was linked to 414 diseases in 16 categories, the researchers report.
The strongest associations were found with psychological behavioral disorders (particularly in men), congenital anomalies and endocrinological, nutritional and metabolic disorders (particularly in women).
Of the 74 diseases that were significantly associated with childlessness in at least one gender, including the 33 diseases common to women and men, more than half were psychological behavioral disorders, the team explains.
The researchers also identified previously unknown connections with inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
Overall, the associations found were also strongly dependent on the age at onset of the disease and, according to the research team, illnesses at a young age were associated with an increased likelihood of childlessness, particularly in women.
Delayed parenthood increases the risk of childlessness
“Our study is the first to systematically examine how multiple diseases in early life are associated with lifelong childlessness and low parity in both men and women,” emphasizes study author Dr. Aoxing Liu in a press release.
Various factors contribute to the global increase in childlessness and postponed parenthood may be a significant factor in unwanted childlessness.
What influence does gender have on childlessness?
Significant gender differences in the links between illness and childlessness were also identified, the researchers explain.
For example, in men there was a stronger association between schizophrenia and childlessness, while in women there was a stronger association with diabetes-related diseases and congenital anomalies, the team adds. (as)