Too Old to Be a Dad?

Men can keep making babies deep into their dotage. And that, says medical science, can be a bad thing.

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Zachary Scott for TIME

There are a lot of downsides to being male. We age faster and die younger. But give us this: we’re lifetime baby-making machines. Women’s reproductive abilities start to wane when they’re as young as 35. Men? We’re good to go pretty much till we’re dead.

The reason, of course, is sperm: Unlike ova, they’re hardy and decidedly plentiful. Every 16 days or so the male body raises a whole new army of them hundreds of millions strong. Want to use a few of those reproductive foot soldiers to keep conceiving children far into your fifties, sixties and even seventies? Have at it, and I should know: I didn’t have my children until I was in my mid- and late-40s (for more, read my story in the new issue of TIME, available to subscribers here).

But not so fast. Older fathers, it turns out, can present as many medical problems as older mothers—more in fact. For all the concerns about Down syndrome and other genetic disorders that become more common in babies of older mothers, the list of conditions older fathers bring to the table is turning out to be far longer. Just last year, a study in Nature found that rates of autism and schizophrenia rise sharply in the babies of older dads, with the risk doubling for every 16.5 years of paternal age. Another study, also in Nature, found something similar for autism, beginning when a man is just 35—the same ostensible trouble-age as for moms. Yet another paper in the American Journal of Men’s Health linked paternal age to preterm birth and low birth weight, and others have found connections to cleft lip and certain cancers.

The problem arises from the same 16-day turnover rate that make sperm such an infinitely renewable resource. Every batch of sperm represents an opportunity for genetic typos—called de novo mutations—to be passed on. A 20-year-old man and woman will each pass on about 20 de novo mutations to a baby they conceive. By the time the couple is 40, a woman’s total has remained at 20, while a man’s has jumped to 65—and it keeps climbing from there.

(MORE: The Secret to Super Sperm? Less TV)

Then too there are the social issues associated with paleo-fatherhood. There aren’t many gray heads among the fathers in my daughters’ play groups but mine. On at least one occasion when I picked the girls up at school, a child asked me, “You’re the dad?” which I found mildly funny, but the girls didn’t. And I’m actually at the very young end of the old dad cohort. Paul McCartney had a baby when he was 61; Rod Stewart was 66; Rupert Murdoch was a stunning 72. Not only does that mean they’ll have less stamina than the average dad, that means they’ll, well, check out a lot sooner too.

“Even if you’re Paul McCartney’s child, you get ripped off if your father dies when you’re in your early 20s,” says Julianne Zweifel, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin.

Older fatherhood isn’t all bad: testosterone rates drop about 1% per year as men age, making them less reactive and more patient, and a professionally established middle-aged man is likely to have more time and money to devote to his kids than a twenty-something who’s just getting started. What’s more, it’s good for moms too—in a satisfying way. After all the generations, even centuries, women have spent under the medical microscope as they go about the simple business of trying to make a baby, it’s nice to have dad—too often a free-rider in the procreation game—take a little of the heat too.

MORE: Older Fathers Linked to Kids’ Autism and Schizophrenia Risk

33 comments
WayneKimberly
WayneKimberly


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glendelo
glendelo

Men cannot have children at any age. This article ignores 10-15 years of research showing mens fertility declines significantly with age, just as womens does. Just google, "men's biological clock" to see some of the studies. 


Here is some recent data:


By 35, a man is 50x more likely to take a year or more to get a woman pregnant.


If a woman is in her mid 30s her odds of getting pregnant are cut in half if her partner is over 40.


Men's fertility takes a major drop between 40 and 45, with one study estimating the drop at about 50%.

After 45, the odds of a man being able to get a woman pregnant drops by 10% each year.


Another study put the odds of a man over 45 getting a woman pregnant at about 35%.


If a man is over 45, it will take 5x longer for him to get a woman pregnant than if he were in his twenties, if he gets her pregnant.


When you see someone like Rod Stewart having a baby in his sixties, it doesn't mean everyone his age can and he may have used ivf treatments. 

This article is silly and misleading.

RickDelia
RickDelia

I don't think I would have the patience or will in my 50s / 60s to take care of a sick kid. Not after a half-century on this planet.

SarahDennis
SarahDennis

Maybe people will be more careful before having children, and consult with their doctors for genetic screening (or at least discussion) to evaluate and fully appreciate the risks of having children late in life. 

Simply because someone's first hand experience might include knowing an older father with a normal child does not discount the important message of this article. A number of thorough scientific studies have confirmed that increased paternal age is associated with very significant increases in risks to the child. Anyone contemplating older parenthood should consider these risks and be prepared to cope with a negative outcome and the resources it might require.

RickDelia
RickDelia

could always get a dog..(or two)

RickDelia
RickDelia

it looks like alot of people in their 40s and 50s are going to die alone.

PlayFight
PlayFight

AGE FASTER? THIS HAS TO BE A FEMALE WHO WROTE THIS! I DON'T CARE IF THE WRITER'S NAME SAYS JEFFEREY! MEN DO NOT AGE FASTER THAN FEMALES AND THE MEN WHO DIE YOUNG ARE THE MEN WHO WORK THEIR ASSES OFF YOUNG. AND EAT POORLY YOUNG!

tobto
tobto

I'm 53 and my son is 5. I feel comfortable with him, but 50 years of difference is too much. He is from another culture.

charles.tersteeg
charles.tersteeg

I'm 44 with no gf. I want kids but its not going to happen.

george78
george78

I am well aware that I shall probably  be dead in 27 years time, as no male forefather  of mine has in over 650 years ever made it to eighty years old, and I have an eleven month old son.

However, I know of another man who fathered until he was 76 years old  and his children all lived into their eighties and nineties.

What though is great about be an older father is I have made time for my son.


DenverReader
DenverReader

Great article.  

I really appreciate seeing an article that focuses on (and the child's children in the case of the genetic risks)?

I also think the author's candor about how he now thinks this was a mistake for him to do this to his children was really refreshing (as well as his self discipline in really looking at the data on genetic risk and really listening to the feedback he got from his children about what this was like for them). Plus, from what he says in the article, it sounds like he also stays in the room and deals with those issues he created (as best they can be dealt with); he doesn't leave from the shame or regret or whatever emotions that are difficult to feel and make the problem worse. And he is willing to write the story to prevent this happening to other children even though there are costs in this for him.

 

punkakes13
punkakes13

i was raised by old people, and it sucks big deal.. let me tell u this

they dont play with u

and its not fun

WendyHoke
WendyHoke

The article points out the stigma women face as older moms, a stigma that older dads do not face.  My husband and I were blessed with a surprise child three years ago.  I was 47 and he was 58.  My HMO labeled it as a "geriatric pregnancy" automatically because I was over 35.  Perhaps we should refer to any man over 35 who fathers a child to be a "geriatric dad."

riotsquirrl
riotsquirrl

My dad was nearly 51 when I was born. Even though he already had diabetes, he was more active than most of my friends' parents. It was the 60's and 70's, and there was no emphasis on adults being active or participating in sports -- that came out of the 80's. Most of my friends' parents sat around the house and smoke cigarettes and watched TV.

'“Even if you’re Paul McCartney’s child, you get ripped off if your father dies when you’re in your early 20s,” says Julianne Zweifel, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Wisconsin.' You know, that your parents will live long into your adulthood is a recent cultural expectation. For some bizarre reason, our society has come to think of it as a positive that you may be caring for your parents in middle age or even in your retirement years. It's hard whenever it happens.

TeriBailey
TeriBailey

Did you even read the article? You are going on about something the article BARELY touched on. The article was pointing out that birth defects rise with the father's age. There was one SMALL paragraph about the psychologic effects of older fathers.

thewholetruth
thewholetruth

What a complete bunch of garbage. I have seen first time dads in the 50',60' and it is fantastic. 

This article assumes youth is what parenting is about. We have a crisis in the country of Fatherless children... YOUNG men who abandon their children. Yes...YOUNG..and absent...slackers..unemployed..."family guy cartoon watching YOUNG men"

I know for a fact that older dads ARE 1000% times better than some 24 year year old boy dad. 

The young are also dying early and the older people are living longer...No one knows how long a person will live, this article assumes that if you are young you will live a long life...think again..we all get one day at a time and we don't know when our last day is


webstart101staff
webstart101staff

@glendelo 

What is the source of those percentage "drops" you're citing? The fact is that men can procreate, well into their 70s and 80s, practically at any age, where women can't. There are numerous examples of men doing that, successfully. That just makes you angry, so you come up with these irrelevant stats, that don't reflect reality, to make you feel better.

barbaras.gwen
barbaras.gwen

@PlayFight Um, technically, males do age faster once they reach their mid-20s or so (before that, it's women who age faster). Wrinkles appear earlier and are more prominent, hair loss is more significant and also starts earlier (women experience hair loss too, but usually not until later in life), men with dementia tend to have been diagnosed earlier than women, stamina and strength decreases faster, etc. This was first reported in a study by Prof Tim Clutton-Brock of Cambridge University and Dr Kavita Isvaran of the Centre for Ecological Studies, Bangalore, India, but it has since been found in other studies as well. 

Aside from that, it has long been known that men in general do not live as long as women. If you look at demographic reports, the difference between the amount of men and amount of women grows wider and wider as humans get up in years, with women outnumbering men. Centenarians (people who reach over 100 years) are mostly women, and the 10 longest-living humans ever recorded in history are all women except for one. The oldest living person ever was a woman who lived to 122 years and 164 days, while the oldest living man made it to 116 years and 54 days. He died last year and is currently the ninth oldest person to have ever lived, but the current oldest-living person is a woman in Japan who is now not far behind him in age, and there are a few currently living women who aren't far behind her. She could very well surpass him, and in a few years, all of the top 10 longest living humans could all be female.

This article is not at all an assault on men, and neither is my comment. It's simply stating the facts. You don't have to like it, but you can blame early humans for the fact that men age faster and don't live as long (the common theory is that the stronger men were the ones who were sought for reproduction, not necessarily those with genes that allowed them to age slowly and live a long time). 

barbaras.gwen
barbaras.gwen

@charles.tersteeg Have you considered adoption? Especially with children-- not newborns? If you have the means to provide a good home for children and you want to become a father, I say go for it. This guy in my building is 81 years old, and he has two grown children who visit him frequently. I recently found out that he adopted them both (they're biological brother and sister) when he was 46 and they were ages five and seven. Apparently his wife had died in an accident several years earlier, and he had always wanted children, but didn't consider adoption until friends of his adopted their own kids. There's an awful lot of kids out there who need homes.

filmsupplies
filmsupplies

@george78  and none of them autistic or suffering from the alarmist bs in this article?

jboscarino5
jboscarino5

@DenverReader  I know your comment was a year ago, but I felt compelled to tell you that nowhere in the article did the author state that he felt it was a mistake.  I had a child about the same age and it definitely wasn't a mistake.  It's good the author pointed out the risks, but there is nothing here that says it was a mistake.

DenverReader
DenverReader

Aaargh, made a typo.

Second sentence should say "I really appreciate seeing an article that focuses on the risks to the child (and the child's children in the case of the genetic risks)."

Too often these articles seem to be about what's in it for the father and how he can extract benefits from older fatherhood with no awareness of the child at all.   This was a refreshing change.



starrose
starrose

@WendyHoke wow!! you give me hope....how is your child doing? did/does it face any of the genetic issues spoke of in the article?

pingponger
pingponger

@thewholetruth

"This article assumes youth is what parenting is about."

No. It doesn't. In fact, much of the article isn't about parenting at all. It's about the discovery that the degenerative reproductive properties of men are also contributing to medical problems in children.

"I know for a fact that older dads ARE 1000% times better than some 24 year year old boy dad."

This isn't a fact. You have seen poor examples of young dads, I have seen great examples of young dads. Neither of us knows for a fact based on our subjective experiences alone what/who makes a great dad.

"The young are also dying early and the older people are living longer... No one knows how long a person will live, this article assumes that if you are young you will live a long life."

Some young do die in car accidents, suicides, overdoses, murders, explosions, etc. And, some old people reach 100 years of age. The fact is, barring accidents, suicides, murders, etc. we all expect that an 11 year old has much greater odds of living an additional 30 years, than does a 70 year old. 

Don't be so reactionary. It isn't good for you. It also isn't good for the internet. There's already too much shouting and angry commenting on the internet. Be constructive. Be kind. Think critically. 




RickDelia
RickDelia

@Grumpthasaurus @RickDelia most have family around them when that time comes. But I'll try to have a dog standing by.  (just hope he doesn't try to pick at my carcass when no one is there to feed him).

webstart101staff
webstart101staff

@barbaras.gwen @PlayFight 

The fact is that, in spite of all of the supposed hazards of older men siring children, discussed in this article, older men are still having children without any problems, on a daily bases. Several of my male colleagues at work ( I work in finance..), sired children in their 40s and 50s, without any issues whatsoever. They're married to women in their 20s and 30s. You're just upset / butt-hurt, that men have a much greater procreative potential, than women. It's all over for you at a certain age, where that's not necessarily true for men. Sorry, we're not equal in everything! 

As far as aging is concerned, to suggest that women age better than men is quite laughable. Anyone who has gone to their 20 year high school reunion can see that men age much more gracefully than women. Many of the women at my 20 year high school reunion, looked like my mother. They're clearly past their youth, where many of the men were still robust, strong, youthful, didn't have their faces full of wrinkles, like many of the women. Men perhaps due to having much more testosterone than women, just look better when they're older, provided they're not overweight. 

An older man, has a much greater chance of marrying a younger, fertile member of the opposite sex, than older, infertile, post-menopausal women. I see it all of the time, where older career women are pulling their hairs looking for that young stud they didn't want to marry when they were younger and fertile, because they were focused on their careers, and now that young stud, wants nothing to do with them, other than perhaps having a one night stand. Men, we can focus on our careers in our youth and when we're in our 40s and 50s, we still have plenty of options as far as marriage and procreation. 


The supposed hazards of older men siring children, are exaggerated in this article, and I suspect it's because the feminist / gynocentric media establishment, which includes journalists and writers like the one who authored this article, and most likely identifies as a liberal, want to make everyone in society "equal". They want to "equalize" everything, as far as gender roles, gender identity, gender differences...So if women can't have children after a certain age, it's not fair that men can. So let's write articles that will more or less "equalize" men and women in their procreative potential and capacities.

The fact is that, the vast majority of older men who sire children in their 40s, 50s and beyond, do not experience the problems mentioned in this article. Deal with it.

LarzBlackman
LarzBlackman

@barbaras.gwen You sound like a teenage girl when you begin your challenge with "Um."

Grumpthasaurus
Grumpthasaurus

@barbaras.gwen @PlayFight  Of course, this is a gross generalisation. Individual cases vary WILDLY. Frankly it is about as useful overall as interracial comparisons of prowess or intelligence. And subject of course to criterial bias. For example, it could be stated that the complete failure of reproductive capacity at menopause, in some women in their thirties, constitutes a radical ageing deficit by comparison to men, whatever the higher risks (but not certainties) of deleterious mutations. Further, menopause brings a host of musculoskeletal deficits that men do not face in the same manner. Of course overall lifespan, across all cohorts, is generally shorter. But the set of ageing is not fully cognate with the set of dying or lifespan, but rather widely divergent for many reasons. For example, more men commit suicide than females, and more are killed in sporting activities. So your comment about lifespans is really somewhat moot. This is epidemiology we are working with. A black box at the best of times, and it is also concerning a subject whose definition is very hazy... 

WendyHoke
WendyHoke

@starrose @WendyHoke no he doesn't have any genetic issues, just issues like having parents who look like his grandparents.

SusanNercher
SusanNercher

@RickDelia  What difference does it make if family is around you when that time comes? After I am gone, I won't care that I'm gone so why would I want others to mourn for me for a little while. Sorry, but I am not that narcissistic. Anyway, just because you have a family doesn't mean that they will be around when that time comes.

barbaras.gwen
barbaras.gwen

@LarzBlackman If that makes you feel better about yourself, then by all means keep believing that. Personally, if I were you, I'd try to come up with a better counter-argument than "You sound like a teenage girl".

webstart101staff
webstart101staff

@SusanNercher @RickDelia 

My grandmother died alone in hospice care and she had a large family. I was in college, and my mom was just to selfish to take care of her at home, with a nurse that the insurance would've paid. But no, hospice care, and she died alone, in spite of having a huge family.