Older father, younger mother, bad idea for baby?

Children conceived by men over the age of 45 struggle in intelligence tests

The trend for men to follow in the fertile footsteps of Michael Douglas, Mick Jagger and Rupert Murdoch by becoming fathers in later life may have unforeseen and unwanted consequences for their children.

The offspring of older fathers are more likely to do less well in intelligence tests than the children of younger men, scientists say, and it may be the result of genetic problems with the sperm of men over 45. The children of older mothers, by contrast, tend to fare better in intelligence tests than children with younger mothers. The researchers believe this may be the result of better nurturing by more mature women.

It is well established that more older men are fathering children. In 1993, for instance, about 25 per cent of births within marriage in England and Wales were to fathers aged 35 to 54, but this had risen to 40 per cent by 2003.

Well-known older fathers include the Harry Potter actor Sir Michael Gambon, 68, whose partner Philippa Hart, 44, is reportedly pregnant with their second child. The BBC's world affairs editor, John Simpson, and his second wife, Dee Kruger, a television producer, had a son, Rafe, in January 2006, when Simpson was 61.

In women, it becomes increasingly difficult with age to conceive, but this is less so with men, who can father children for as long as they are capable of having sex – which can be well into their 70s or 80s. While there has been extensive coverage of the health problems associated with older motherhood, scant attention has been paid to any potential difficulties faced by the children of older men. However, recent studies have linked paternal age with congenital problems such as neural tube defects and a range of medical disorders of later life, such as schizophrenia, dyslexia, bipolar disorder and autism.

The latest study was based on a retrospective analysis of nearly 33,500 children born in America between 1959 and 1965, whose cognitive abilities were tested at the ages of eight months, four years and seven years. In addition to being assessed on hand-to-eye co-ordination, sensory discrimination and conceptual knowledge, the older children were also tested on their reading, spelling and arithmetic ability.

John McGrath, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, who led the study published in the online Public Library of Science, said there was a clear decrease in performance linked to paternal age – something not seen in the children of older mothers. "We report, to our knowledge for the first time, that the offspring of older fathers show impairments on a range of neurocognitive tasks during infancy and childhood.

"The patterns of these findings were relatively consistent across ages and across neurocognitive domains," Professor McGrath said. "In light of secular trends to delayed fatherhood, the clinical implications of the mechanisms underlying these findings warrant closer scrutiny."

The study, however, could not shed light on whether those children catch up with their peers in later life.

Although women are born with all the cells that evolve into future egg cells, men produce new sperm cells throughout their lives. This was thought to protect against the sort of degradation of the sex cells seen in the female egg cells as they age.

Scientists now believe that as men age, their sperm are at an increased risk of picking up minor mutations that may be passed on to offspring and can affect their development. "While most of the neurocognitive differences were small at the individual level, these could have important implications from a public health perspective," Professor McGrath said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
news

Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
life
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Sport
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower