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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Show Me the Data: Large Families are Bad for Parents

Memorial of St. John Chrysostom

The BBC is reporting that University of Utah researchers who surveyed the records of couples living in the late 19th through the late 20th century have concluded that the more children couples had, the worse their health and the more likely they were to die early. The study for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science covered 21,000 couples living in Utah between 1860 and 1985, who bore a total of 174,000 children. The increased mortality rate applied to both mothers and fathers, but mothers showed a higher rate. These results are said to shed light on the evolutionary development of menopause and the cultural establishment of modern family planning.

OK. A few flags.

The statements about menopause and family planning are narratives outside the described scope of the study that are made to be consistent with the results; that makes them speculation. Interesting, perhaps, but not necessarily a conclusion (this is something of a pet peeve of mine regarding science reporting).

There is no mention of blocking the data (sometimes called factoring) for other variables, such as occupation, or residency, or access to medical care, to name just a few, so we are provided no understanding of the relative sensitivity of family size on mortality with respect to the other risks of daily life in Utah. In fact, the actual increased mortality risk is never quantified, nor is the definition of "early death" provided.

However, as a father of seven, given all that, the conclusion here about increased mortality could still very well be true; it does sound plausible that having more kids wears you down sooner. To which I say, "So what?" Higher mortality may just be the price for having a higher density of household joy and love.

(HHT: Laura Ingraham)

[submitted by e-mail]

Update: This has been cross-posted at Catholic Dads.

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