IF YOU hope to live a long and healthy
life, then abandon all plans of marriage, forget about the trauma of
childbirth and dedicate yourself to climbing the career ladder to
achieve a disease-free old age.
A massive study of 15,000 middle-aged
men and women, carried out in Paisley 30 years ago, has given
researchers a unique opportunity to determine the factors which
contribute to a productive dotage.
And the startling results reveal that
women who have never married and never given birth have the best
chance of good health in their later years.
For men, career success seems to be the
elusive elixir necessary for sustained quality of life long
The ground-breaking study, carried out
by the University of Paisley, revisited some of the surviving 7,500
men and women who took part in the original research.
Professor Mary Gilhooly, director of
the Centre of Gerontology and Health at the university, told The
Scotsman that the two and a half year PREVAIL project was unique in
the world, because most other studies of its kind did not have access
to a pool of women subjects.
It was thanks only to the stubbornness
of a female factory worker who demanded that women be included in the
original survey that scientists today had ready access to such
Today?s research found evidence to
suggest that eliminating stress was a precursor for a healthy old age.
Professor Gilhooly said: "It seems that
having and caring for children is stressful for women and lack of
career progression is stressful for men.
"So low levels of chronic stress from
giving birth or a poor career are damaging over a lifetime."
The study determined the factors which
allowed the 100 healthiest men and women, now in their seventies or
older, to live productive lives. "What is surprising is that of the 52
women we looked at 20 of them are childless, which is quite
astonishing," added Prof Gilhooly.
"It appears that being unmarried and
childless is the better option for women who want to stay healthy in
their old age," she said.
"It?s not a happy state to have lived
to 95, but to have spent 30 years in poor health.
"Giving birth is physiologically
demanding, but it is also time-consuming and stressful bringing up a
child, and for some of them it is very boring.
"We?ve got to remember that we?re
talking about a generation who had children and then were expected to
give up work."
Throughout the past 30 years, studies
conducted into the Paisley Buddies, initially undertaken by
researchers at Glasgow University, have given valuable insights into
the prevention and treatment of heart disease and cancer.
The MIDSPAN study also examined the
effects of smoking, drinking and obesity on lifespan. Describing the
52 women looked at in the new study as the "healthy elite", the
professor said those who were unmarried were a far cry from the
stereotype of the hard-nosed spinster.
She added: "They were not crabby old
witches. If anything, they were dynamic and leading interesting lives
with very strong social circles."
Asked whether the prognosis for a
generation of women who juggle career and family commitments was poor,
Prof Gilhooly said: "Well, it could be worse. If the common
under-lying factor in our findings is stress, then it?s possible that
poor health may increase for those women when they reach old age."
The professor explained that modern
women could benefit from increased salaries, better homes and better
diets, which could, in turn, balance out any negative impacts on
health associated with child-birth and marriage.
Professor Gilhooly added that her study
had thrown open some interesting results for her own future.
She admitted: "I?ve been married for 30
years and I have a son.
"I?m not childless and not unmarried,
but I have had career progression, so if I was a man, my prognosis
would be wonderful."
The research project concludes in March