It will come as little surprise to many parents — but having a boy really might be tougher work.
Scientists say having a son seems to age your brain quicker.
A study of more than 13,000 over-50s in the US found that parents with at least one son experienced faster cognitive decline, compared to those without one.
And those who had more than one son lost their cognitive abilities faster than those who had only daughters.
The researchers, from the US and Czechia, did not investigate what was to blame for the effect.
But they suggested it may be down to daughters being more likely to look after their parents in their elderly years and offer emotional support, helping to keep them healthier as they age.
Meanwhile, those who have boys may be less likely to lead a healthy lifestyle.
For example, studies show parents of daughters are less likely to drink alcohol, take drugs and smoke — while mothers of sons are more likely to weigh more.
A study of more than 13,000 over-50s in the US found that parents with at least one son experienced a quicker cognitive decline, compared to those without a son. And those who had more than one son lost their cognitive abilities faster than those who had only daughters, the scientists said
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Keep your brain active
The brain is not a muscle, but regularly ‘exercising’ the brain actually does keep it growing and spurs the development of new nerve connections that can help improve memory.
By developing new mental skills —especially complex ones such as learning a new language or learning to play a new musical instrument — and challenging your brain with puzzles and games you can keep your brain active and improve its physiological functioning.
Regular aerobic exercise improves circulation and efficiency throughout the body, including in the brain, and can help ward off the memory loss that comes with aging. Exercise also makes you more alert and relaxed, and can thereby improve your memory uptake, allowing you to take better mental ‘pictures.’
Chronic stress, although it does not physically damage the brain, can make remembering much more difficult. Even temporary stresses can make it more difficult to effectively focus on concepts and observe things. Try to relax, regularly practice yoga or other stretching exercises, and see a doctor if you have severe chronic stress.
Source: Queen’s University Belfast
The team, from Charles University in Prague and Columbia University in New York, gathered data from the ongoing study monitoring more than 30,000 over-50s and their spouses.
Some 13,222 parents, who were followed for around 14 years, were eligible for the current study.
They reported the number of children they had and their gender.
Parents also completed 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.
A total of 10,872 participants had male children, with 4,862 having one son, 3,523 having two and 2,487 having three or more.
Among those with no sons, 891 had one daughter, 905 had two daughters and 554 had three or more daughters.
The results, published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, show that parents with at least one son had a faster rate of cognitive decline compare to those who had no sons.
The speed of mental deterioration was similar for both fathers and mothers.
The researchers noted the effects were ‘modest compared to the overall decline overtime’.
But Katrin Wolf and team said they were still visible even after accounting for sociodemographic and health factors that could have skewed the results.
Their analysis also revealed that the downturn in parents’ mental abilities was faster if they had multiple sons, compared to parents who only had daughters.
As the effect was the same among mothers and fathers, an aspect of parenting sons ‘might play a role in cognitive ageing’, the researchers said.
The mechanism behind their finding was not investigated.
But they suggested that the parents of sons may be more likely to be ‘disadvantaged later in life as daughters provide more social support than sons and more often become informal caregivers’.
A child’s biological sex may also ‘influence’ parental behaviours, with mothers of sons weighing more, on average, than those who have daughters for ‘a long time after pregnancy’.
This combined benefit on physical and mental health among parents of daughters ‘may contribute to lower risk of dementia’, the team said.
The researchers noted that they accounted for all children had by the participants, regardless of whether they were biological, adopted or step-children.
If biological mechanisms are behind the brain deterioration among parents to sons, then this may have biased the result, they said.
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