Danish researchers recently did a study on mortality rates of those with and without children. What did they find? As The Atlantic article indicates, that “While unable to prove causation, the authors concluded that mortality rates are higher in people who don’t have children.”
When we take a closer look at this conclusion and the media’s report on it, we see slices of pronatalism at work.
Danish researchers looked at a sample of 21,276 couples undergoing IVF treatment (italics mine) for infertility over a 14-year period , and compared those who ended up having children with those who did not. They found that:
“the death rate for childless women was 4 times higher than for women who had given birth. Women who had adopted had two-thirds the likelihood of dying prematurely. The death rate was also approximately halved for both biological and adoptive fathers. When the researchers controlled for things like age, education level, and income, these differences remained significant.”
Is the mortality rate higher in all people who don’t have children? This is where conclusions and how the media write about it send an inaccurate message.
The more accurate conclusion here is that those who wanted biological children and did not have them did not live as long as biological parents.
Titles of articles about this research reinforce misinterpretation. Take USA Today‘s article title: “Childless Men and Women May Die Sooner.” It could be easy to interpret this as anyone who does not have children may die sooner, when this is not the case.
Or the title of The Atlantic‘s piece summarizing the research: “Becoming a Parent Significantly Decreases Risk of Premature Death.” This is truly misleading as it implies if you don’t have children, no matter what the reason, you will die sooner than parents.
More misleading titles were out there than not. Why? There is the tendency to want to reflect the embedded idea that it’s just better for us to become parents. And this reinforces pronatalist assumptions that tell us were all destined to become parents, and if we don’t want that there must be something wrong with us.
In googling articles on this research, I found one from NHS Choices, a health site in the UK that got it right: “Childless Couples Who Wanted Kids Die Younger.” Unlike many other media articles, they make the outcome of the research much clearer at the outset.
Social and cultural pronatalist conditioning puts parenthood on a pedestal, and one’s eyes don’t need to be wide open to see it all around us. In this case, it shows in how researchers and media choose to use their words.