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The Scientific Ways Old Dads and Young Dads Are Different

Plenty of men are delaying parenthood and that can mean a lot of different things for their kids, scientists warn.

An increasing number of men are choosing to delay parenthood. There are clear scientifically-backed advantages that come with that. However, there are plenty of mental and physical health problems older dads may put their children at risk for, a growing amount of research shows. Here’s what fathers aging like fine wines have to look out for.

Their Babies Might Be in More Danger at Birth

The babies of older fathers have been linked increased health risks at birth, including low birth weight, seizures, and a need for ventilation immediately after birth a decade-long study out of Stanford University warns. The data, which considers over 40 million births, indicates that men roughly over the age of 35. These risks appear to become more severe with age — men who were 45 or older were 14 percent more likely to have a child born prematurely, compared to men over 50 who were 28 percent more likely. Still, study coauthor Michael Eisenberg, an associate professor of urology, assures older parents that even with advanced paternal age, the odds having a baby with these health problems are still small, comparing it to winning a terrible lottery.

“If you buy two lottery tickets instead of one, your chances of winning double, so it’s increased by 100 percent,” Eisenberg said in a statement. “But that’s a relative increase. Because your chance of winning the lottery started very small, it’s still unlikely that you’re going to win the lottery.”

Children of Old Dads Could Have More Mental Health Problems Later in Life

Older dads may have children who struggle with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia later in life, multiple studies suggest. However, the connection between paternal age and psychiatric illnesses has been debated, and scientists are cautious about extrapolating too much from the research. What they do know is that a vast majority of children born to older fathers are mentally healthy, but there may be an elevated risk compared to younger dads.

Older Dads Have Been Linked with an Increased Autism Risk

Scientists are similarly careful about concluding that old dads cause autism, but have found a correlation between advanced paternal age (typically above 40) and autism in several studies. Compared to men in their thirties, chances of having a child with an autism diagnosis was 28 percent higher for men in their forties and 66 percent higher for men in their fifties, according to one study on over 5.7 million children across 5 countries. Researchers suspect that aging sperm might have a number of mutations that could be passed onto the child, but this theory is still being debated and requires further study.

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“It’s hard to know exactly if older sperm is worse, since there are so many variables besides age in these studies linking older fathers and autism,” Dr. Jason Kovac, an endocrinologist at IU Health told Healthline, adding that some of these variables include lifestyle, diet, and tobacco, alcohol, drug use, and not just being old.

Old Dads May Have Smarter Sons

It’s not all bad news for older dads, especially for the ones who want smart sons. Older fathers might have sons with higher IQs, superior focus, and less concern with fitting in with others, research reveals. Study authors rudely referred to this composite score as the “Geek Index” and found that geekiness was largely inherited in boys from older fathers. While some experts think this may have something to do with the link between paternal age and autism, others believe that older dads have smarter sons because they’re more mature, evolved, and often intelligent caretakers themselves later in life. All the risks considered, having an older dad may be actually good for some kids — even if they are a bunch of nerds.

The Children of Old Dads Might Actually Live Longer

As many risks that might come with being an older dad, scientists out of Harvard have found that aging sperm might help to make children with longer telomeres — the tips chromosomes that are often compared to plastic tips of shoelaces and protect DNA, which has been linked with a longer lifespan. The study also found that having older grandpas increased the positive impact older dads had on their offsprings telomeres, which suggests that delayed reproduction may boost longevity when there are not other mortality risks.

“This finding suggests a mechanism by which humans could extend late-life function as average age at reproduction is delayed within a lineage,” study authors wrote. Simply, having a little delaying fatherhood for men who are otherwise healthy, and might even be an indicator of a longer lifespan that men can pass on to their kids. That’s a pretty solid gift to get from an old ass dad.