Early Motherhood

In lieu of my Boston Legal post (my dad wanted to tape something, and by the time I get around to watching the tape, it will be Tuesday, adn I can’t be bothered remembering until Thursday…) I’m going to post something I found interesting. The full article is here. I’ve edited as I saw fit (and possibly took the article out of context).

From AAP:

People are more likely to see their 100th birthday if they were born to young mothers, research hints.

The age at which a mother gives birth has a major impact on how long her child will live, two researchers from the University of Chicago’s Centre on Aging told the Chicago Actuarial Association meeting this spring.

The chances of living to the ripe old age of 100 – and beyond – nearly double for a child born to a woman before her 25th birthday, Drs. Leonid Gavrilov and Natalia Gavrilova reported. The father’s age is less important to longevity, according to their research.

Their latest research suggests that it is the young age of the mother, rather than birth order, which is significant to longevity.

The finding that children born to young women are more likely to live to 100 “may have important social implications,” Gavrilov added in a statement, “because many women postpone their childbearing to later ages because of career demands.”

“This research helps us better understand the predictors of longevity and quantify the implications on society and business,” said Thomas Edwalds, a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, which co-sponsored the study.

The researchers emphasise that why children born to younger mothers have an advantage when it comes to longevity requires further study

As I said, I’ve edited out about 1/2 the article and may have taken out some of the context, but there seems to me to be an implied blame in women postponing childbirth. What do you reckon someone, somewhere out there reads this article and holds it up as proof: See, I TOLD you women should be barefoot and in the kitchen by eighteen! Women are depriving their children of longevity by postponing childbirth!

I mean, it pretty much says women should be having children young, but men have no such obligations. This is rather an extremist perspective to take, I realise, but how about someone doing a study about how men having children well into their fifties and sixties – leaving them fatherless at twenty or earlier – is detrimental to the child’s wellbeing?


  1. Mecha says

    I’m not sure I’d smack their research too hard, since we can’t much say if it’s true or not from the outside (and each writer outside the press release will put their own spin on it.) But! In the interest of your question about older fathers having bad effects, Google for “Children With Older Fathers Studies” and you get a LOT of hits on Schizophrenia (2004 study) as well as some ‘Sperm quality decreases’ studies (that was pretty recent, now that I think about it. Beginning of this month, even.)

    So child age may not have a causation/correlation link to father age, but quality of life purely on age is not dependant on the mother alone, according to recent studies. Just in case someone actually tries to argue that crap. 😉


  2. scarlett says

    It was cool to google… but I had google it, whereas this site was the #1 place to go to for news in Australia. That was kinda my point… if we google it, we get equal sides of the argument… but if we listen to the mainsteam news, we hear ‘it’s ALL WOMEN’S FAULT’.

  3. Mecha says

    Hrm. I suppose that’s an interesting point on its own. That said, USA Today had something on the genetic quality of sperm decrease thing when it came out. That’s reasonably mainstream, although I have no idea how much space they gave to it. And I can’t find any other reports on the womens’ lifespan study as of now. I suppose we’ll see whether that pops up any more in the next few days.

    I couldn’t find the sperm quality thing on the same site as the lifespan study, though, so perhaps there is a bias there in your news (a search for ‘sperm age’ gives more female results then male ones.) Part of the original study context, though, is that this comes from an actuarial convention, and they _love_ insane statistics. The kind that say ‘taller people don’t live as long’ and other such studies. Anyone that uses that kind of study to justify anything real is an insurance adjuster or crazy.


  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Interestingly, though, I’m reading a book written by scientists who claim that scientists looking at gender differences are frequently unconsciously influenced by cultural bias. The press also slants for what viewers or readers want to hear (which is that men and women are different), and then even the scientists who originally kept their conclusions sound start reassessing their conclusions to fit the dominant paradigm.

    In short, if anything Scarlett’s cutting this study too much slack, and I’m going to be posting about some of this in coming weeks.

  5. Jennifer Kesler says

    LOL, very true.

    Also, look at this bit of what Scarlett posted:

    People are more likely to see their 100th birthday if they were born to young mothers, research hints.

    Research “hints”? The hell it does! It either tells you something conclusive, or it doesn’t yield an answer. “Research hints” translates into English as “the press infers”.

    Personally, I see no sound way to test this theory. Most people currently 100 or older probably did have a younger mother, because that’s how things were then. Mothers had completely different nutrition and health care back then. I’m sure I could think up 50 more variable factors without breaking a sweat.

    Either the study is complete bullshit, or it’s about something else entirely, and a reporter has culled something from a footnote and twisted it until it was what the editor wanted to print.

  6. Mecha says

    Actually, Beta, research is very good at ‘hinting’, especially when a newsperson is writing the copy and wants a word. ^_~ And qualitative research can do nothing _but_ point at trends. Because last I checked, it would, in fact, be impossible to say anything but ‘People with mothers below X age have Y% chance of living until Z age, which is W percentage points above average’. It’s not a theory you ‘test’. It’s a statistical analysis. And that’s exactly what they did, off of Census data among other things. And here I’m going to be a research twonk, so if this tries peoples’ patience… well, hopefully it won’t.

    http://longevity-science.org/Abstracts.html is a few of the Abstracts from the husband and wife team that did this research. There’s a _lot_ of statistical analyses they have apparently done on the subject. For crying out loud, look at this one:

    In this study we explored the effects of early-life conditions on adult lifespan of 12,000 persons using methodology of follow-up study of extinct birth cohorts and the multivariate regression with nominal variables. We found that sex differences in adult life span are modulated by early-life events and conditions. Specifically, we found that such variables as (1) father’s age at person’s conception, (2) maternal lifespan, (3) month of birth, (4) birth order (first-born status) have a profound effects on adult lifespan (life expectancy at age 30) in females, but not in males. Daughters born to young fathers (below 30 years) or old fathers (above 50 years) live significantly shorter lives, while sons are less affected by paternal age at conception. The dependence of progeny lifespan on parental lifespan is non-linear with particularly steep slope for long-lived parents (above 90 years) and female sex of the progeny. Women born in May or December live longer compared to those born in February or August, while male lifespan is less affected by the season of birth. Supported in part by NIA grants.

    Look at all those nearly MEANINGLESS statistical indicators. But they are statistics, and assuming they’re not frauds are accurate to some degree which I can’t see because all their papers hide behind walls I can’t get through 😉 You could use them to make insurance decisions. And sometimes people will.

    The article also makes it clearer, and brings out that there were other indicators as well (perhaps there you could find a betetr argument for bias, that mother’s age was the indicator used. From the story itself:

    They found that while being born to a young mother was an important predictor of reaching 100, other factors seem to help someone live an exceptionally long life. These include growing up in the Western part of the US, spending part of one’s childhood on a farm, and being born first.

    There are plenty of other predictors. And remember that this is an analysis done for _actuarial purposes_. Their entire purpose is finding the percentage margins in statistics and making decisions on it so that their companies don’t go up in smoke. It’s not _necessarily_ causational, as presented, because they can’t necessarily _check_ causational. That’s what tends to happen when a relative layperson tries to interpret statistics. Note the quoted language from their report: ‘factors predicting exceptional longevity and its time trends’. Predictors. Not causes. Things you could chug through a statistics engine and use to say, ‘X person has a Y chance of living to 100.’ That’s all. And those sort of mistakes are how people try to claim what Scarlett feared someone might. Or, more ludicrously, that ‘Going to Arizona, living on a farm, and being a female firstborn before you’re 25, in May or December is the ONLY way to have a child to live to the highest life.’ Statistically? Yes. Realistically? No. Hell, what were the indicators 100 years ago may be different today. Like I said. Only crazy people would use it for anything more than it’s meant to be, which is ‘here’s some statistics to guide your expectation of when people die.’ There’s a lot of interesting directions for research from this, too. Why are men so uniform on death, and not related so much to lifespan? (Although they better not drink alcohol. Causes birth defects in studies, yanno.) It’s all statistics. Finding meaning behind it… well. That’s nobody’s job but the researchers.

    Without the research paper itself, we can’t know how much the newsperson spun the story, but the chances of it being wholly crap research are surprisingly low. However, now that time has passed, we can see that Reuters news service is the apparent source of the copy, and a google search for “Gavrilov and Gavrilova News” pegs that the story has gotten at least the same coverage as the sperm story, now. And Reuters wrote a copy of the sperm story too (google can find sources acredited to them.)

    So where’s the ultimate problem? Bad phrasing? Or hidden copywriter agenda? After all this legwork, I’m not sure it’s either.


  7. Mecha says

    Now, that is an interesting possibility in general, but dismissing _any_ study that says there’s a socetal difference between men and women… is pretty silly, since we all know that there is, in fact, a societal difference between the way men and women are treated (if there weren’t, this blog wouldn’t exist, among numerous others) and if that can’t cause effects psychologically and physically, I’ll eat someone’s hat. I’m far more inclined to blame the copywrighter, if anyone, because nobody deserves to have to try to figure out whether these sort of studies actually means anything for everyday life. Because very often… they don’t.


  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    True, there’s no doubt that social conditioning creates differences between the genders.

    I was referring strictly to studies that claim to find physiological (and therefore insurmountable) differences between men and women. For example, one study the book mentioned found that women’s brains were more active during math activities than men’s were: this, they claimed, meant women had to work harder while math comes naturally to men (as per the usual stereotype). A similar but unrelated study found that women’s brains were LESS active than men’s during language functions, which of course meant women are stupider. 😉 And people wonder why we get the feeling we just can’t win.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    There’s no question the press focused on the bit that reaffirmed patriarchal values, while ignoring the rest. They know most people don’t want to hear that many statistics, so they purposely choose the one that’ll get people nodding along and saying, “See? I was right.”

    That’s all they’re doing – but it’s significant. That’s meta-messaging at work.

  10. Mecha says

    Oy. That case is very silly. And my first blush on the math one is to ask, ‘What kind of problems’? There’s less crazy established studies about trends with math problems, and IIRC they’re focused around the difference in brain linkage. And insurmountable is never a good word, because I guarantee the worst guy is worse than even an average woman in even a supposedly ‘insurmountable’ area. It breaks the concept of looking at ‘trends’, and thereby becomes so special case as to be meaningless.


  11. Mecha says

    I wrote a bunch of stuff in response to this, and then I axed it because I figured it was too rambling (just like the above stuff). Ultimately, though, I don’t think the bias is clear for a few reasons. 1) Same news agency wrote the sperm story. And there’s a homosexuality based on brothers born from the same mother story now too. Why isn’t this just happenstance and equal time? 2) What should they have written the headline as? There’s only 2 interesting factors in that study as presented (First born and Mother) and one of them was claimed to be more important by the researchers. 3) If they were biased, why did they leave in the entirely optional part about other factors? We would have never known.

    Either they’re so biased they lied in their construction of the story to make the mother thing more important than it was, but FORGOT to take out the part that indicates other factors, or they… really didn’t do much more than write a news story about the top predictor in a study, using that predictor in the headline. Patriarchy may oft-times be lazy and unintentional, but that’s a bit much in my mind. Subtle though it can be.


  12. Ifritah says

    Geesh, I have all sorts of things stacked up against me! Mother 35 when she gave birth, I have an ‘innie’ bellybutton… AND I’m right-handed! *Goes to order her grave marker now before it’s TOO LATE*

    But seriously, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all the soc and psych classes I took in college, it’s that there’s a whole bunch of things you have to look at when it comes to statistics. Now, I didn’t read the article (didn’t have enough time, sadly), so I can’t go over an analysis of this particular study, but there are a lot of factors to consider. A) What exactly did the study do in order to get these results? As in, did they do a paper survey, interviews, blah blah B) Where did they get their informants? Random people off the street? Etc. C) What was inferred versus what was discovered. As in, X% of mothers over age 30 had children with a mental disorder in ___ study. Why? Well, what was the background on the mother’s that had this percentage? Were they working women? One-parent family? One-time parent? Married? … Okay, I could go on, but I’ll stop.

    Wow… Can’t tell what my majors in college were. Ahem. Anyway, just saying, that the general public doesn’t look at stuff like that. They listen to what the researchers say they found. Now, I’m not saying that that means this study was bullshit, but I do mean that without looking at all the facts, anyone can infer anything off of very little information and make it look golden.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    First of all, I consider statistics and demographics to be very soft anti-science. The very idea that they predict anything in an ever-changing daily world is ludicrous. Only the most microcosmic, narrowly applied stats are useful.

    You can make stats say anything you want. You can carefully choose your supposedly random samplings, like the Neilssen ratings do, or you can interpret numbers in a variety of ways. Studies are a nice way to get grants – that’s all. They need to be taken less seriously.

    But as long as they can be used to reaffirm the opinions of the status quo, the press will happily report them.

    Remember the 80’s, when studies showed that women who worked were more likely to have miscarriages? That turned out to be a highly incomplete study misrepresented by a Reagan administration-controlled press. How many people ever heard the retraction?

    So please pardon my skepticism about the accuracy of usefulness of this study, and my further skepticism about the press’ interest in reporting “facts” without slant.

  14. mlo says

    It is a grave disservice our society has done to many women of my age (mid- to late 30s) by indicating we could delay children. If you want to have your own child, your best bet is to do it before age 30. Period. It is biology. The majority of women who are having children over 40, are using donor eggs. These are not their genetic off-spring.

    I, and many of my contemporaries, feel utterly betrayed by the women’s movement. We are not men. Pretending we are has deprived thousands of women from ever having genetic children.

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    I know quite a few women who had their first children when in their late 30’s or early 40’s – including my doctor, who disagrees with your assessment here, the source basis of which you don’t offer.

    I, and many of my contemporaries, feel utterly betrayed by the women’s movement. We are not men. Pretending we are has deprived thousands of women from ever having genetic children.

    I sympathize with your situation, but I disagree with where you place the blame. The women’s movement is about offering women a choice – to have kids or not, for example. If you received bad advice from doctors about when you could start having kids, then the medical establishment is to blame. If you relied on someone other than doctors to tell you when you should start having kids, that was ill-advised.

  16. sbg says

    You said this so much better than I could. I can’t imagine feeling betrayed for a movement whose entire purpose allows me to make the choices I do every day, when before that I wouldn’t have had much of a choice at all.

  17. scarlett says

    I think part of the problem also is the expectation that, once pregnant, women have to give up their career for a good ten years. Society as a whole needs more outlets for women to have children and continue on with their careers in much the same capacity men do – pain daycare, flexible hours etc.

    Admittedly, men are in a better position because then CAN have children well into their fifties and sixties. That’s just one of those uinfairnesses that comes along in life. But on the flip side, this pressure from sicety for women to have children is ridiculous. I don’t think women collectively want children any more then men do.

    Mlo, I sympathise with your position. But I disagree with women being pressured into have children, and being made to feel like something’s wrong with them if they don’t. The women’s movement was, above all, about choice: do I want to have sex or not? do I want to have children or not? Yeah, with those choices come sacrifices, but isn’t that was femininsm is about, the right to make those choices and sacrifices rather then having them made for us?

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