Open access Fertility history and cognition in later life

Sanna Read, Emily Grundy (2016)

Journal of Gerontology, Series B


Available online: 28 February 2016


Objectives: To investigate the association between fertility history and cognition in older men and women.

Method: We analyzed associations between number of children (parity) and timing of births with level and change in cognition among 11,233 men and women aged 50+ in England using latent growth curve models. Models were adjusted for age, socioeconomic position, health, depressive symptoms, control, social contacts, activities, and isolation.

Results: Low (0–1 child) and high parity (3+ children) compared to medium parity (2 children) were associated with poorer cognitive functioning, as was an early age at entry to parenthood (<20 women/23 men). Many of these associations disappeared when socioeconomic position and health were controlled. For women, however, adjusting for socioeconomic position and social contacts strengthened the association between childlessness and poor cognition. Late motherhood (>35) was associated with better cognitive function.

Conclusion: Associations between fertility history and cognition were to large extent accounted for socioeconomic position, partly because this influenced health and social engagement. Poorer cognition in childless people and better cognition among mothers experiencing child birth at higher ages suggest factors related to childbearing/rearing that are beneficial for later cognitive functioning, although further research into possible earlier selection factors is needed.