New kids for the crocks

Fatherhood: Roger Dobson reports on a rising trend for over-40s to have children and Neal Ascherson adds his personal reflections
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The Independent Online
Second-time-around fathers are the new baby boomers. About 17,000 men a year father children in middle age - a higher number than ever before - and most of them are on their second marriages. In more than 200 births in the past 12 months the fathers were pensioners.

Increases in the divorce rate, longer lifespans, improved health in middle and old age, and the ageist policies of some employers who pay off men in their fifties have all contributed to the greater number of men becoming fathers later in life. The number of older first-timers is also increasing as men and their partners delay having children until later in their careers.

According to New Generation, the journal of the National Childbirth Trust, more than 50,000 men father children each year and a third of them are over 45, including 250 over 65 and 23 over 70.

Older fathers are able to spend more time with their children, usually have more money, and are less harassed by career pressures. But they risk social embarrassments such as being unable to run in races on parents' day and being mistaken for grandfathers by other parents.

The research shows that the children of older parents are less likely to be unplanned. It also suggests that such children are brighter and do better academically and professionally. Unlike the physiological problems that face older women having children, the quality of men's biological contribution to the pregnancy appears to be unaffected by advancing age as long as they are physically able.

"In general the genetic material does not change as people get older and the main adverse effect of ageing is reduced fertility. There is no reason that cancer, for example, should be passed on as long as the tumour does not affect the sperm or tissue which generates them," said William Keatinge, professor of physiology at Queen Mary's College London.

Dr Richard Wolfson, a child psychologist and author, says that second- time-around fathers are more experienced and have a greater confidence in their parenting skills. "They don't have so much to prove. They are further on in their careers, have more disposable income, and take a less fraught approach to fatherhood with a broader perspective on life," he says.

One of the main problems for the older fathers is physically keeping up with their young children. Dr Wolfson said: "Having children is very demanding both physically and mentally and you need a lot of energy and enthusiasm for rearing under-fives. They are incredibly demanding. When you are 25 or 30 you have more energy than when you are 50."

Dr Charlie Lewis, reader in human and social development at Lancaster University who has spent nearly 20 years studying fathers, says older fathers may also face social problems. "When you have children you enter into a new social network. Older men get very upset when they meet someone outside the school gates who says something like, 'Your grandson looks just like you.' "

Jeremy Hamand, 60, who has three boys aged seven to 12 in his second marriage, described his experiences in New Generation. He said: "Most second-time fathers enjoy tremendously the experience of bringing up small children in middle age, or even late middle age, because they represent a fresh challenge at a time of life when things often seem to be going downhill. Careers may be past their peak, age may begin to slow some physical activities and new experiences may be fewer and further between. A new birth marks a new beginning and strengthens bonds with a new partner."