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Is there a link between early fatherhood and premature death?
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A new study of brothers suggests that young men who become fathers before or in their early 20s may have increased risk of dying in their late 40s and early 50s. - photo by Lois M. Collins
Young men who become fathers before age 25 have a higher risk of dying in midlife, compared to men who father their first child later. That's according to a study by Finnish researchers published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The study found that "men who have a child before the age of 22 have a very clear higher midlife mortality than men who have children later, at an average age of 25 to 26," lead author Elina Einio, a postdoctoral researcher in the Population Research Unit at the University of Helsinki, told Reuters.

By midlife, they meant men dying in their late 40s or early 50s.

Wrote Laura Geggel for LiveScience, "In the large Finnish study, researchers found that men who had their first child by age 22 were 26 percent more likely to die in middle age, compared with men who fathered their first child at age 25 or 26.

"For men who became fathers slightly later, between ages 22 and 24, the risk of dying in middle age was 14 percent higher than that of men who fathered their first child at age 25 or 26."

The study background material noted that earlier research has shown "young fatherhood is associated with higher later-life mortality. It is unclear whether the association is credible, in the sense that mortality and young fatherhood appear to be associated because both are determined by family-related environmental, socioeconomic and genetic characteristics."

To try to narrow that down, the researchers studied brothers who presumably share many factors, including some of the genetic, cultural and socioeconomic traits. They looked at brother pairs where one first fathered a child before 25 and the other after that age. In all, they collected information on more than 30,000 men born in the 1940s and 1950s in Finland who were fathers by age 45, then tracked what happened to them to age 54.

Fifteen percent became fathers by age 22, 29 percent between 22 and 24 and 18 percent between 25 and 26. The others became fathers at older ages. About 5 percent of the fathers died by age 54, but the ones who became fathers later had the lowest mortality risk.

When they looked at what happened to the men using 1,124 of their brothers as a control group, the researchers wrote that "the findings of our study suggest that the association between young fatherhood and midlife mortality is likely to be causal."

The study didn't look at possible reasons for the higher midlife death risk, but Einio theorized that unplanned pregnancy, early marriage and psychological and economic stress related to being a father could be part of the reason.

"The findings of our study provide evidence of a need to support young fathers struggling with the demands of family life in order to promote good health behaviors and future health," Einio said.

In an interview with MedicalResearch.com, Einio commented on other research, which has looked primarily at young motherhood. "Parenting at a young age can be challenging, and it is important that clinicians recognize that it is not only the young mothers, but also the young fathers that may need support," she said.

The age at which a woman has a first child has been looked at in various ways, with some of the findings well publicized. For example, the National Center for Biotechnology Information said research has shown that young motherhood is associated with less risk of breast cancer than for a woman who gives birth over age 35.

Not everyone agrees with the Finnish research team's theories on cause. Kevin McConway, a statistics professor at Open University, told The Mirror, "That's plausible. But these fathers grew up in Finland during and soon after the Second World War. Social conditions in, say, Britain now are very much different from their experience. We just don't know whether the findings would be the same for young men nowadays, in Finland or anywhere else."
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