One of the topics that came up at the Barcelona conference on low fertility was the question of whether parenthood brings happiness to adults; the evidence so far seems uncertain. This week, however, there is solid evidence reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in favour of motherhood, if not fatherhood.

PsychCentral reports:

Researchers followed 1,292,462 women in Taiwan for over 20 years to learn if the hypothesis postulated by sociologist Emile Durkheim in 1897 — that parenthood is protective against suicide — was accurate.

Investigators found a 39 percent decrease in suicide-related mortality among women with two live births and a 60 percent decrease among women with three or more births compared to women with one child.

The participants, who were followed until Dec. 31, 2007, gave birth between Jan. 1, 1978 and Dec. 31, 1987.

The study is especially important because of its large sample of women and the number of deaths from suicide: 2252. In Taiwan suicide is the eighth leading cause of death amongst men and the ninth among women. It has been increasing there since 1999 while stabilising or falling in western countries.

The male to female ratio of suicide is often greater than 3:1 in Western countries, whereas it is 2:1 in Taiwan because of high suicide rates in women. In Western countries, rates of suicide among women have been decreasing while rates among men have been increasing.

“A clear tendency was found toward decreasing suicide rates with increasing number of children after controlling for age at first birth, marital status, years of schooling, and place of delivery,” writes author Dr. Chun-Yuh Yang, Kaoshiung Medical University, Kaoshiung, Taiwan.

“The protective effect of parity on risk of death from suicide was much stronger than previously reported estimates.

“Given that the women included in this study were young (the large majority of suicide-related deaths occurred before premenopausal age) and were among the youngest reported for any country, this finding is particularly noteworthy.”

Study authors hypothesize that having children may protect against suicide because children may increase a mother’s feelings of self-worth.

Children may also provide emotional and material support to a mother and provide her with a positive social role. As well, motherhood may enhance social networks and social support.

Thanks to Ricardo Peralta for this tip.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet