Sunday, January 07, 2007

The ticking of the male biological clock?

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Remember this exchange from When Harry Met Sally?

Sally: But it's there. It's just sitting there, like some big dead end. And it's not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73.

Harry: Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up.

Just as with women, the number of men having children later in life is increasing. People are marrying later, often starting a second family. Men, of course, are largely unrestricted by any biological reproductive timeline, although that seems to be changing for women with assisted reproduction, showcased to the extreme by this story.

Anecdotally, a number of older fathers report benefits to approaching parenthood later in life. They feel able to be more committed to parenting, being more financially secure, less pressured by work, having more leisure time. Certainly, this seems to have been the case in my own family. There's a sizeable gap between myself and my siblings and the relationship I had with my father seems to have been both qualitatively and quantitatively different to that reported by my siblings. My father eventually went on to have a second family and I could see the father-daughter relationship became even stronger and richer. The flipside of that, of course, is that my father unfortunately died when my half-sister was very young.

Social issues aside, increasing attention is being paid to potential health problems associated with late fatherhood. The risk of birth defects in women having children later in life is well documented. However, studies have reported potential links to increased risk of autism, schizophrenia among other health conditions in the offspring of older fathers.

This should not necessarily be a red flag to embracing fatherhood later in life. Like anything else, there's always a trade off. What it does suggest, however, is that men may have their own version of the so-called biological clock and might want to take that in consideration when planning their family.
Older fatherhood. What do you think? Try the new fangled poll in the sidebar (as long as this technical imbecile can get the code to work, that is!)
If you're interested in reading more on late fatherhood and autism, check out this informative post from Moof.
Poll results
Is it ever too late to consider fatherhood?
Absolutely not. Maturity makes for better parenting. 9% (1 vote).
No, within reason (under 60). 18% (2 votes).
Yes, I'd worry about the father being there for the child. 64% (7 votes).
Yes, I'm concerned about the health risks for the child. 9% (1 vote).

*Abstracts only, subscription required for full article

Thanks to Leslie for sending me the references underlying this post.


mckay said...

both my parents were older and are now dead. i'm in my mid 40's and have been alone for six years now. i'm glad i was born, so i guess i'm in favor of older parents having kids...but they need to be aware that their children will be grieving the loss of their parents for a long time after they're gone.

sisiphusledge said...

I am probably going to be controversial here, but I'm sure dear mother nature put a time limit on female fertility for a reason. So, why didn't she do the same thing for men? I have to say that I think it is unfair on a child to have a much older father because of later worry that s/he will have about father dying before s/he has had a chance to enjoy many years and experiences with him. That said, I do think that both men and women need to have developed the maturity to raise a child, so the other extreme of age is also a big concern for me. I daren't get into the autism debate... it is so emotive a topic and last time I gave an informed opinion on a blogsite, it was misinterpreted by a person who had a very blinkered view. I just keep my views to myself on that one despite the good research that there is available. Some people never want to listen to anything that might contradict their own beliefs.

Interesting post,

healthpsych said...

Hi McKay,
I'm so sorry that you lost both your parents so early. It certainly brings home the possible consequences of late parenthood.

Hi Sisiphus,

For me personally, I think parenthood was better coming later for me. My mother calls it poetic justice though...she reminds me constantly of the time when I told her she was so much older than other mothers and now rubs it in how I've done the same to my daughter!

Alison said...

HP, The poll says it all doesn't it? A resounding "Is he going to be there for the child?" is echoed by the vast majority.

Alison said...

Thanks for the info on autism and it's relationship to older fathers. I find that really interesting.

As a psych who works in the public school system, a large part of my work is to make applications to gain (integration) funding for kids with special needs. As it happens, a large group of those applications in the last few years have been for kids who are on the autism/aspergers spectrum.

I've wondered to myself, "What's going on here? Are there most autistic kids now or are diagnoses better and more aware?"

Your (excellent) post sheds some more light on a complex question. Thanks for that, intriguing indeed.

tkj said...

If I have kids I'd definitely want to have them before I'm real reason why (guess I just wouldn't want to be too old when they are hitting their stride). Of course, that is looking like an increasingly remote possibility given my current bachelor status:)

Moof said...

Very well done! I didn't realize that Les had asked other people to write on the same theme. I'll put a link to your post in mine tomorrow.

Be well!

healthpsych said...

Hi Alison,

Yes, it does although there aren't that many votes!

Interesting point you raise - I wonder if there is just more awareness of the spectrum of autistic/Aspergers presentations now?

Should we submit your name to The Bachelor? *wink*

Hi Moof,
Thanks. Your post was very informative, much more detail for people interested in the link between older fatherhood and autism. Have linked to it above so people can check it out.

Leslie said...

Moof must have gotten angry with me for sending you the same files I sent to her and she took the entire post off her blog.

I am sorry not to know the etiquette of blogging. Her post had valuable information and now it is lost.

Again, sorry for my faux pas. I did not mean to upset Moof who was also kind enough to write a wonderful post.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I think there a pros and cons for fatherhood later in life. I guess that no matter what, it is always really important to be the best parent that you can no matter what your age.

healthpsych said...

Hi Leslie,

No, Leslie,she hasn't! I am having trouble linking to the post because she did a much more detailed post on the subject.

I have been mailing back and forth with Moof to try and resolve it but I can't even see the post on her site whereas she can. I'm not sure what the problem is. Can you let her know you can't see it either?


Hi Tiesha,
Great point about quality of parenthood! Like your new blog name btw.

Dr. Leonid Gavrilov, Ph.D. said...

Thank you for your interesting post!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related scientific study interesting to you:
Human Longevity and Parental Age at Conception

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