The psychosocial health of children born after medically assisted reproduction: evidence from the UK Millennium Cohort Study
SSM-Population Health, 7:100355, 1–11 (2019)
The increasing number of children conceived through medically assisted reproduction (MAR, including IVF/ICSI, intrauterine insemination and ovulation induction) has led to concerns about the potential negative effects of fertility treatments on children’s psychosocial health. Some studies suggest that MAR children might be at higher risk of developing psychosocial problems when they enter adolescence. However, very few studies have examined the development of MAR children after childhood. Moreover, even though parental socio-economic characteristics are known to be highly correlated with children’s psychosocial development, most existing studies on the outcomes of MAR children did not take into account the selective characteristics of the couples who accessed fertility treatments. Using data from waves 1–6 of the UK Millennium Cohort Study, we compare the psychosocial health, as measured by the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, of MAR children to that of naturally-conceived (NC) children, up to and including the age of 14. We control for a wide range of time-constant child and parental characteristics that might confound the association between MAR and the psychosocial health of children. Results from multilevel random intercept models that do not account for parental characteristics show that MAR children have a lower incidence of psychosocial problems than NC children. In models that control for parental characteristics, MAR children are found to have a higher incidence of psychosocial problems than NC children at age three, which suggests that high parental resource levels both explain the advantage of MAR children in unadjusted models, and mask the potentially adverse effects of MAR at young ages. However, in the fully adjusted models in which MAR children have more psychosocial problems at young age, the differences with respect to NC children decrease with age and become statistically and substantively negligible by end of follow-up at age 14. This result suggests that the use of MAR does not increase children’s risk of having psychosocial problems at the onset of adolescence.