The Effect of Children on Mental Health in Old Age

Kai Kruk, University of Mannheim

Depression is among the most common diseases in old age in Europe. This article investigates the causal relationship between the number of biological children and mental health of elderly Europeans. Specifically, we ask whether additional children improve or threaten parents' mental health status. Our identification draws on two natural experiments that exogenously increase the number of children: multiple births and the sex composition of the first two children. Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, we find that additional children can exert a negative causal effect on mental health of females namely on the likelihood of depression and the use of antidepressant drugs. There is no evidence for a causal effect of having additional children on the probability to suffer from depression for elder men. We suggest that situations of financial hardship are one pathway for the effect of children on mental health.

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Presented in Session 184: Families and Well-Being in Comparative Perspective