Effect of Childlessness on the Health Status of Elders

Robert D. Plotnick, University of Washington

An increasing proportion of U.S. adults are childless. If childless elders require greater health care than elders with children and childlessness continues to increase, financial pressures on publicly financed health programs will expand faster than the rising dependency ratio would imply. The existence and size of any effects of childlessness on health, especially physical health, have received little attention. This study examines the relationship of childlessness to several indicators of elders’ health status, including self-reported general health and indices of limitations on activities of daily living, functional limitations and mental health. It presents descriptive data on differences between the childless elderly and those with children as well as regression models to better establish the net association between childlessness and the outcomes. The study uses instrumental variables methods to assess the likelihood of self-selection into childlessness and examine how doing so affects the findings. The Health and Retirement Survey provides the data.

Presented in Session 41: Family and Aging