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Older Fathers May Affect the Health of their Partners and Children

Women have “biological clocks.” Men have “biological clocks.” A recent study from Rutgers University, published in the journal Maturitas, reviewed 40 years of research on the effect of the father’s age on fertility, pregnancy, and the health of resulting children.

While it is generally well known and accepted that reproductive changes occur in women in the mid-thirties, most do not know of the physiological changes happening in men of the same age. In fact, there is no clearly accepted definition of “advanced paternal age.” In the medical literature, it ranges from 35 to 45 years with a doubling of the genetically abnormal sperm every eight years after the age of 20. In large part due to IVF, the number of infants born to fathers over 45 has risen 10 percent in the United States during the past 40 years.

Importantly, the Rutgers study found that men 45 years of age and older experience decreased fertility and that advanced paternal age places their partners at risk for increased pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and preterm birth. Babies born to older fathers were found to be at higher risk of premature birth, late still birth, low Apgar scores, low birth weight, higher incidence of newborn seizures, and birth defects (e.g., congenital heart disease and cleft palate). In addition, these children were found to have an increased likelihood of childhood cancers, psychiatric conditions, cognitive disorders, and autism.

There is a natural decline in testosterone with aging, as well as an increase in poorer semen quality. With aging sperm tend to be less “fit,” and damage to sperm from the various stresses of aging can lead to changes in the genetics incorporated into the DNA of cells in the bodies of children conceived. Such germline mutations also may contribute to the association of older fathers and children with autism and schizophrenia.

The “biological clocks” of men should be discussed by physicians as well as by the lay media. Men who delay fatherhood should consult their doctor and consider banking sperm before age 35 to lessen the increased risks to the health of the mother and child.


N. Phillips, L. Taylor, G. Bachmann: Maternal, infant and childhood risks associated with advanced paternal age: The need for comprehensive counseling for men. Maturitas, 2019; 125: 81 DOI: 10.1016/j.maturitas.2019.03.020

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