Having Lots of Children Increases Longevity for Men

HealthDay reports that farming and fatherhood help men live to 100 years old. In a widely-circulated report (I found it on the front page of Yahoo!), the ideal candidate to reach the age of 100 is “a young, trim farmer with four or more children”. While the farming and being fit may not surprise most people, even the authors of the study were caught off-guard by the finding about 4+ children.

“We were surprised that having more than three children is beneficial to longevity — based on previous studies by other authors, and common sense, quite the opposite could be expected,” said study co-author Leonid Gavrilov, who conducted the study with his wife, Natalia Gavrilov, both of the University of Chicago’s Center on Aging.

I’m not surprised. At all. Having six children, my wife and I know lots of large families. A “large family” by today’s standards seems to be exactly the number that the Gavrilov’s discovered in their study of World War I draft cards: four. When we hit four children, there was a noticeable shift in attitude and mannerisms displayed toward us. While some embraced us more, many more thought us irresponsible, reckless, cavalier, or just ignorant. The jokes increased, as did the awkwardness among people who wanted to be polite, but weren’t quite schooled in how to do so.

We certainly weren’t victims of bias or anything (well, almost never). It seemed like three children were just “a lot” by many people’s standards, but “four” was just huge. For me, I tend to think numbers over 12 are “a lot”, and I find it hard to call any family “huge”. There was one on the cover of a magazine years ago that had almost 30 I think (mostly adopted). I have to admit that I’d be a bit intimidated by that number.

But, like with so many things God throws your way, they don’t usually come at once. Unless you have been playing with fertilization drugs, you aren’t likely to be handed four or six children at once. Under normal circumstances, your odds are greater of being hit by lightening twice. The children are born one (or two) at a time, and there is some time (usually at least a year if you are human) to get ready for the next one.

The study went on to make the following observation:

Compared to childless men of the same age, a 30-year-old man in 1917 who had one to three children had a 61 percent increased chance of living past a century, the data showed. However, a man’s chances for extreme longevity almost tripled if he had fathered four or more children by age 30, the study found.

That’s at odds with a prevailing theory in longevity research that holds that “there is a trade-off between the number of children and [parental] longevity,” noted Arnold Mitnitski, a longevity researcher and associate professor of medicine, mathematics and statistics at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

He described the study as “very well-done, very clean.”

Theoretically, a household full of young kids should deplete a family’s resources and undermine the longevity of parents, Mitnitski said. And yet, young dads with many children lived much longer than other men in this sample.

That’s the problem with theories. They don’t hold up well to facts. We are certainly nowhere near rich. Far from it. But when people tell me I look young, then find out I have “a lot” of children, they assume I should look even older. I always say the same thing: having children keeps me young. The fun of being with them, hearing their cute ideas, and watching them grow far outweighs any stress they can cause. It also far outweighs the benefit of owning a pet. People get pets all the time for the same reasons - as a companion, to laugh, to love - but somehow think children are stressful and suck the life out of parents.

Even disciplining them, as stressful and confusing as it can be sometimes, has its ultimate benefits: “Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.” (Proverbs 29:17). You hear people say that Proverbs is just a little book of life guidelines, that they aren’t, strictly speaking, promises from God. This is an example of a verse that is as reliable and steadfast as the Law of Gravity. A lot of Proverbs is like that. But I digress…

I might also add that having raising children is what keeps a lot of life’s stresses in check. It is what makes everything else worthwhile. While I fully believe that a married couple sans children is still a “family” (to each his own), I’m not wired in such a way. To go through some of what I’ve gone through without some other beneficiary in sight would be really depressing for me. My wife is wired similarly, so I think that is what helps to unite us to pull through certain things.

There are days (ha ha) where the thought does occur to you that you could be losing your mind. But they are few and far between. I don’t take this study to think that I will live longer. After all, I’m not a farmer and I’m hardly “trim”. But, I fully believe that children are a blessing and just like other blessings (money, a good wife, old age), I don’t understand how people willingly turn it down. I can only guess they believe children to be something than what they are.

I can definitely say that if one or two children is a blessing six or a dozen is even more so. I look forward to them being on their own - but in a healthy way, to see them grow, make mistakes, start their own families. Mostly I’m looking forward to just having more alone time with my wife at some point. It’s been a busy 13 years so far, and there’s always a chance there could be more “storm before the calm”. That’s perfectly okay with us.

I hardly think this study will cause people to re-examine their beliefs about children. Should someone actually decide to have more children so they could live longer, I think we’d all agree that would be the absolute wrong reason. If this study is valid, then it merely further establishes what the Bible already says about children.

“Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of the youth. Happy is the man whose quiver is full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-4)

The Bible says the man is happy. Pretty straightforward, and I have to say it is true. I’m not a happy-go-lucky sprite, mind you. In fact, some people find me downright argumentative. Probably because they are on the losing side of the argument. Too bad, so sad. Overall, I am content though. And I’m certainly not stressed out about the number of children I have as so many seem to think I should be. We have our challenges, but so does everyone, no matter their station in life. I’m more than comfortable dealing with my challenges. Maybe that is something to be content about.

“Unless the Lord” magazine has a good article here on the Value of Children. You’d think a decent society wouldn’t question the value of children. In our culture, nearly 40 million babies have aborted for the sake of convenience. People don’t get married or have children until their mid-30’s, often living at home with their parents, playing video games, and in general, still acting like a child themselves. Elders are left to wither away in nursing homes because their aren’t enough offspring to help take care of them - and quite often, the offspring they have had are just too busy to care. I don’t want to harp on what has already been said better elsewhere, but clearly there is some question these days as to the value of children.

There shouldn’t be. Perhaps my favorite counter-argument to having more children is the tired “overpopulation of the earth”. This is usually screamed loudest by single, pro-choice folks, but it’s overtones can be found in the squeemish hesitation of so many couples that its worth bringing up for a moment. What I love about this argument, and perhaps what makes it so attractive to some, is that by denying the blessing of children in your marriage, you are supposedly being “responsible”. After all, we all want to be responsible, right? Take a good look, take a real good look, at the responsibility of these people who promote this worldview. If you can get time to talk to them between playing video games, driving sporty cars, or hanging out “the club”, you’ll find their personal rally of “save the earth from more children” to be a bit shallow.

Still, even if they are serious, mature, responsible people, there’s a single problem with their idea (besides the obvious facts that have well-defeated that rant for decades - just Google “overpopulation myth” if you need to play catch-up) and that is this: If you are being responsible by not having children, then by having them, others are being irresponsible. It almost seems dogmatic nonsense to suggest something that, intuitively, we all know to be false. That form of responsibility would have wiped out the earth thousands of years ago if anyone bought into it. You are supposed to spay pets, not parents, to be responsible. Less cats, more children.

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