That Clock You Hear Ticking May Not Be Hers

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m 45 and my wife is 35. We’ve been together for more than ten years and have finally decided to have a family. I know that it may be harder for my wife to conceive than it would have been if she was a little younger. But someone recently told her that my age could be a factor too. Is that true? Sounds crazy.

A: I hate to take sides, but your wife wins this round. Like most people, you know about the difficulties that women over 35 have getting pregnant. That’s only the beginning. As women age, the risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and birth defects increases. But we rarely hear anything how the father’s age affects fertility and beyond. Here’s a quick overview.

  • Researchers at Bristol University in the UK found that men’s fertility begins to decrease starting at about age 24. The odds of conceiving within six months of trying go down two percent per year over that age.
  • Sperm count decreases with age, and the little guys gradually lose their speed and accuracy, meaning fewer of them will make it all the way to the egg, and those that do will take a lot longer to get there.
  • Sperm quality also decreases, starting when the man is about 35. That means that the ones that reach the egg are less able to fertilize it. And even if they do, the resulting pregnancies have an increased risk of ending in miscarriage.
  • A small number of very rare health risks and genetic conditions are associated with older dads. For example, compared do men under 30, dads over 40 have a higher risk of fathering children with autism, schizophrenia, dwarfism, heart defects, facial abnormalities, epilepsy, and some childhood cancers. Advanced paternal age may also be associated with children’s lower IQ scores, increased risk of developing breast cancer and shortened lifespan (for women born to dads 45 and over). This may be why the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has set 40 as the upper limit for sperm donations. Some clinics have even lower limits.
  • As your kids get older, you may not like it very much when people assume you’re the grandfather instead of the dad.
  • As you age, it may be a bit harder for you to do some of the physical things young dads do, such as skateboarding, giving piggy-back rides, and just crawling around on the floor.

On the other hand, being an older dad has its advantages. And in many people’s eyes, those advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

  • Older dads are generally more financially secure, less worried about saving up for a down payment or making partner, and they’re better able to provide for their family.
  • Research indicates that older dads are more likely to share responsibility for taking care of their children and tend to be more actively involved with them.
  • Older dads may also be warmer, more nurturing, and focus more on their children than younger dads.
  • Older dads rate themselves as being more patient, more mature, and calmer than the young bucks.
  • There is some indication that children of older dads do better in school. That’s probably at least partly due to some of the factors above.
  • Being an older dad keeps you thinking and feeling young. You’re up on the latest culture, you hang out with younger couples, get to throw baseballs and go to school plays, and you’ll know who Lady Gaga and Jay-Z are.