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Exploring the Lifetime Effect of Children on Wellbeing Using Two-Sample Mendelian Randomisation.

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Sallis, Hannah M 
Munafò, Marcus R 


BACKGROUND: Observational research implies a negative effect of having children on wellbeing. OBJECTIVES: To provide Mendelian randomisation evidence of the effect of having children on parental wellbeing. DESIGN: Two-sample Mendelian randomisation. SETTING: Non-clinical European ancestry participants. PARTICIPANTS: We used the UK Biobank (460,654 male and female European ancestry participants) as a source of genotype-exposure associations, the Social Science Genetics Consortia (SSGAC) (298,420 male and female European ancestry participants), and the Within-Family Consortia (effective sample of 22,656 male and female European ancestry participants) as sources of genotype-outcome associations. INTERVENTIONS: The lifetime effect of an increase in the genetic liability to having children. PRIMARY AND SECONDARY OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary analysis was an inverse variance weighed analysis of subjective wellbeing measured in the 2016 SSGAC Genome Wide Association Study (GWAS). Secondary outcomes included pleiotropy robust estimators applied in the SSGAC and an analysis using the Within-Family consortia GWAS. RESULTS: We did not find strong evidence of a negative (standard deviation) change in wellbeing (β = 0.153 (95% CI: -0.210 to 0.516) per child parented. Secondary outcomes were generally slightly deflated (e.g., -0.049 [95% CI: -0.533 to 0.435] for the Within-Family Consortia and 0.090 [95% CI: -0.167 to 0.347] for weighted median), implying the presence of some residual confounding and pleiotropy. CONCLUSIONS: Contrary to the existing literature, our results are not compatible with a measurable negative effect of number of children on the average wellbeing of a parent over their life course. However, we were unable to explore non-linearities, interactions, or time-varying effects.


Peer reviewed: True


Mendelian randomisation, family size, wellbeing, Humans, Male, Child, Female, Genome-Wide Association Study, Mendelian Randomization Analysis

Journal Title

Genes (Basel)

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Volume Title


Economic and Social Research Council (ES/P000630/1)