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.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little