There seems to be a long-standing stereotype that raising girls is more taxing on parents. Whether that’s due to assumptions that girls are more emotional and higher maintenance or just the longstanding patriarchy, a family with multiple girls seems to be pitied. However, a new study may show that parents of boys might be in for some challenges later in life.
Specifically, researchers found that having sons may speed up a parents’ cognitive decline.
The results, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, show that parents with at least one son had a faster rate of cognitive decline, including dementia, compare to those who had no sons.
The team, from Charles University in Prague and Columbia University in New York, collected data, monitoring more than 30,000 50+ aged participants and their spouses. Some 13,222 parents, with at least one son, experienced faster cognitive decline, compared to those without one.
Even more so, parents who had more than one son lost their cognitive abilities faster than those who had only daughters.
To hone in on the possibility of cognitive decline, parents were asked to complete regular cognitive tests which assessed their mental skills, such as memory, concentration, thinking and understanding.
These included remembering a list of 10 words, counting down from 100 in sevens and counting backwards for 10 continuous numbers.
“Our results also suggest that cognitive decline was faster among parents of multiple sons, compared to parents with only daughters,” authors say in the paper. “Thus, the results support the theory that having sons might have a long-term negative effect on parental cognition.”
The speed of mental deterioration was similar for both fathers and mothers.
While researchers did not narrow down the exact reasoning for why there seems to be a faster cognitive decline in parents with sons over daughters, they did make some educated inferences.
They suggested it may be because daughters are more likely to look after their parents in their elderly years and offer emotional support. This support helps to keep parents healthier as they get older.
Lead author of the study, Katrin Wolfova, added, “Daughters provide more social and emotional support than sons and often become informal caregivers.”
So for those with more than one son, or only sons, it makes sense to be concerned the future of your neurological health. While gender of children might be a factor in a parent’s brain health, there are several other factors that may be at play.
Overall health (diet and exercise habits) and family health history can also be huge factors in brain health. And though gender may have an impact, there is hope in how a son is raised. While the study suggests boys can be less caring, it doesn’t mean all boys will be. It also means that everyone has an opportunity to raise boys that are empathetic caretakers — not just for the good of society (though that should be enough!) but for your own future health.