Younger Fathers, Smarter Kids?
In discussions of age and parenting, it is usually the age of the biological mother that gets the most attention. A recent study suggests that perhaps we should also be paying attention to the age of the biological father. After analyzing the intelligence tests of 33,000 U.S. children at the ages of eight months, four years, and seven years, researchers found that the children with older fathers underperformed those with younger fathers. It is generally accepted that older parents often have better means for intellectually stimulating their children, such as their own education and secure finances. But the research indicates that, despite the fact that men can reproduce well into old age, there are drawbacks to actually doing so. This could be because sperm degrades over time, more so than female eggs. Also, older mothers have children that tend to perform better than average on intelligence tests. Such a revelation makes a few wonder if perhaps men and women should pair when each party is at the supposed "sexual peak" of 18 years for males and around 30 years for females. Of course, more and more, both sexes are holding off parenting until later in life... Evolutionary irony, anyone? It is important to acknowledge that the referenced study samples were not taken recently. The participants were children in the sixties. Because of this, some experts are skeptical about how relevant the findings are for today. Why? First of all, fathers in the middle of the 20th century were less involved with their kids than the fathers of today. Because of this, their children, especially those with older fathers, did not receive the same cognitive stimulation that children in the 21st century do. Additionally, the fathers of today are physically older than fathers 50 years ago, but they don't act it. Having a first child at 40 in 1960 was not as common as it is now, and when it happens in 2009, the fathers are a much larger part of the nurturing process. Still, later studies have looked at the effects of paternal age on children, and come to similar conclusions about older fathers and their children. In looking at 16 and 17 year old Israeli males, researchers found that the young men whose fathers were 45 years or older at their birth were more likely to display poor social functioning. While science indicates that it is better for men to reproduce before middle age, the most important part of raising children is still the provision of love, security, and cognitive stimulation. Small deficits in the children of older fathers are simply a biological reminder that mental and emotional maturity do not necessarily cancel out physical maturity.