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Old Dads Raise Geeky Kids, Study Suggests

Sons of older fathers tend to be more focused on their academic interests, less concerned about fitting in, and generally more intelligent than their peers, according to new research. In other words, the authors write—they’re “geeks”. Which may not be the most technical (or most self-aware) term for scientists to use, but they meant it in the best possible way.

“We thought it’s unlikely that advanced paternal age is associated only with the negative outcomes reported before,” coauthor on the study Magdalena Janecka of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told Fatherly.

Indeed, past studies have largely focused on negative outcomes associated with advanced paternal age, such as autism and poor social skills. The upside of having an older dad has not been explored in nearly as much detail. So Janecka and colleagues looked at behavioral and cognitive data from 15,000 UK-based pairs of twins obtained from the Twins Early Development Study. At age 12, subjects completed online tests to measure non-verbal IQ, social aloofness, and their level of focus on subjects of interest—a combination of factors that Janecka and her colleagues tallied up to create what they dubbed the Geek Index.

After Janecka and her team controlled for social and economic status, as well as parents’ qualifications and employment, they found that sons of older fathers had higher geek indexes and performed better on exams, specifically pertaining to STEM subjects. Interestingly, the effect was not observed in daughters. For Janecka, this was a red flag that her methodology may need some fine tuning. “Maybe our ways to measure geekiness were not sensitive enough to pick up its manifestation in females,” she says.

On the other hand, past studies have suggested links between paternal age and autism, as well as links between a father’s high IQ and autism. Janecka suspects that whatever genes control geekiness may overlap with the genes behind autism. But the specifics of this genetic intersection will doubtless require further study. In the mean time, Janecka warns parents against putting too much stock in her results.  For older dads “we observed geekiness to be associated with a positive outcome,” she says. “But we acknowledge that there could also be downsides of being a geek.” And don’t even get her started on dorks.