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06.01.2020 | Original Research Open Access

The More the Merrier? The Causal Effect of High Fertility on Later-Life Loneliness in Eastern Europe

Social Indicators Research
Thijs van den Broek, Marco Tosi
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Levels of later-life loneliness are high in Eastern Europe. We assess whether having more children is protective against later-life loneliness for Eastern-European mothers and fathers. Drawing on Generations and Gender Surveys data of 25,479 parents aged 50–80 from eight Eastern-European countries, we adopt an instrumental approach exploiting parents’ preference for mixed-sex offspring to estimate the causal effect of having additional children on feelings of loneliness. We find that having an additional child has a causal protective effect against loneliness for mothers. Ordinary least squares regression models also show a weak but statistically significant negative association between number of children and later-life loneliness among fathers. However, results of the instrumental variable analyses are inconclusive for this group. We thus do not find statistically significant causal evidence that having an additional child is protective against loneliness for fathers. Our results underline the importance of addressing reverse causality and selection bias when investigating the links between number of children and later-life loneliness, particularly among women. The causal evidence presented here suggests that the trend towards families with fewer children noted in several Eastern-European countries may place new cohorts of older Eastern-Europeans, and in particular Eastern-European women, at risk of stronger feelings of loneliness.

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