The number of children born through medically assisted reproduction (MAR) is on the rise since 1978, when the first IVF-conceived baby was born. MAR covers a range of techniques, including ovulation induction, intrauterine insemination, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). While research on MAR-conceived offspring has been largely focused on the analysis of their health and well-being, much less attention has been given to whether – and, if so, how – the mode of conception affects parent-child relationships.
There are reasons to expect that relationships might be influenced by the mode of conception. On the one hand, research suggests that conception through MAR is associated with higher levels of parental stress than natural conception (NC), which could negatively influence parent-child relationships: The experience of subfertility and of having made large investments in the child could lead MAR parents to be overprotective and to have exaggerated expectations of their children and their own parenting abilities. On the other hand, MAR families tend to be socio-economically advantaged, which is, on average, positively associated with family relationships.
In a new study, Alice Goisis and Maria Palma (Centre for Longitudinal Studies, Social Research Institute, UCL) looked at parent-child relationships of individuals around the age of 14 in the UK (born between 2000 and 2002) by exploring data from the Millennium Cohort Study and analysed relationships with both mothers and fathers. Their results suggest that differences between the MAR and NC families in terms of closeness and frequency of quarrelling are small, and generally not statistically significant. However, they did find statistically significant differences on the specific indicator of closeness: concretely, mothers of MAR children were found to be closer to their offspring than the mothers of NC children, and MAR cohort members tend to be closer to their mothers than NC children.
The authors interpret their findings from optimistic lens, as it suggests that the difficulties and the stress parents underwent to conceive through MAR seems to not translate into more difficult parent-child relationships during adolescence.