Over the past few decades, women have been waiting longer to have babies. It’s no surprise considering reproductive advancements (like egg freezing), and the fact that more women are pursuing higher education and career goals, leading to a delay in baby-making plans.
You could probably guess that the average age of men becoming fathers has risen too. A study published in Human Reproduction analyzed statistics from 168,867,480 live births from 1972 to 2015, as recorded by the National Vital Statistics System. The data showed that the mean age of men in the U.S. with newborns has risen from 27.4 to 30.9. That’s an increase of 3.5 years.
Now this doesn’t seem like a huge deal, but it does show a clear upward trend notable across all ethnic groups. Additionally, it was noted that the rate of dads over 40 with newborns has more than doubled in that time period, from 4.1 to 8.9 percent. Further, the rate of fathers over 50 nearly doubled as well. (Hello, George Clooney with new twins at age 56!)
What does it mean?
We know that there are increased risks for women becoming pregnant at an advanced maternal age (over 35), but what effect does an older father have?
“There is data that a man’s fertility declines with age. In addition, there are some potential risks to children,” said Dr. Michael Eisenberg, lead researcher in the study. “Our findings substantiate the need for further research on the health and social implications of older fathers.”
Advanced paternal age carries some risks for families
- Delayed conception
A large study published in Human Reproduction revealed the older a man is, the longer it takes for a couple to conceive. Men over age 40 were 30 percent less likely to make a baby within 12 months as compared to those under 30 years old. This could be due to changes in sperm quality, hormone levels, and overall reproductive function. Rate of miscarriage also seems to increase with paternal age.
- Birth defects and genetic disorders
As a man gets older, sperm DNA damage and gene mutations occur at a higher rate, which can be passed on to offspring. A study published in Epidemiology reported that increasing paternal age is associated with a higher risk of cleft palate in babies. An earlier study found a correlation between advanced paternal age and conditions like achondroplasia, a bone growth disorder that causes dwarfism.
- Psychiatric concerns
JAMA Psychiatry reports a correlation between older fathers and increased risk of disorders like autism, psychosis, and bipolar disorder in their children. More research has also shown a higher likelihood of developing schizophrenia.
So is younger better?
It’s important to note that the risks are still low overall. We’re talking total chance of up to two percent in most cases, so the odds of kids being affected is still minimal. What’s more impactful is the age and health of the mother carrying the baby, in combination with fatherly factors.
There are also benefits associated with older fathers
- Emotional and financial stability
“Age brings with it emotional stability, psychological strength, and financial security,” says Pasquale Patrizio, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine.
With age comes wisdom, experience, and a more secure sense of self. An older person has been around the block and is less likely to have time or room for unnecessary drama and immaturity. They’ve also had more time to further their education, pursue career goals, and achieve financial success. This all creates a more stable environment overall for kids.
- Smarter kids
Older dads may raise smarter, “geekier” kids. (Yes, researchers actually formulated a “geek index” to use in a study published in Translational Psychiatry.) Kids were evaluated for factors that indicate higher IQ, stronger focus abilities, and less concern with fitting in with peers. Scores tended to be higher in kids whose fathers were over 35 at the time of conception. Boys with dads who were over 50 at the time of conception were 32 percent more likely to score very high on STEM subject exams than those born to dads under age 25. Looks like these kids’ academic and job futures are bright!
- Children (and even grandchildren) may live longer
By now you know that undesired changes in sperm occur as men get older, but there’s one beneficial adjustment. Telomeres (components of chromosomes that protect against aging) become longer. Longer telomeres indicate longer life span. More research reveals that this trait is passed on to offspring, meaning that future generations could naturally be set up to live longer.
All things considered, if you want science to tell you the perfect age to have children, you probably won’t get a clear answer. Apparently American fathers are taking a few more years to perfect their best dad jokes, and that’s okay!
Do you think parents should have kids later in life? Share your thoughts below.