Is Having More Children Beneficial for Mothers’ Mental Health in Later Life? Causal Evidence from the National Health and Aging Trends Study

Thijs van den Broek , Erasmus University Rotterdam

Objectives. The parents of the baby boom generation were characterized by their high fertility, but subsequent cohorts had considerably fewer children. Given that adult children are an important source of social support in later life, this may have implications for the mental health of new cohorts of older people. This study investigates whether having additional children protects white mothers aged 65 and older against mental health problems. Method. Data are from Wave 1 and Wave 5 of the National Health and Aging Trends Study (n=3,858). An instrumental variable approach exploiting the preference for mixed-sex offspring is used to estimate the causal effect of additional children on the risk of elevated depression and anxiety symptomatology. Results. The estimated instrumental variable model shows that additional children reduce the risk of suboptimal mental health among white mothers aged 65 and older. Conclusion. Results suggest that declines in higher-order births may put new cohorts of older women at increased risk of suboptimal mental health.

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 Presented in Session 56. Kin Availability at Older Ages and Its Consequences on Health