a man holding a babyCan the age at which men have children make a difference in children’s psychological well-being? Research from a partnership between Indiana University (IU) and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm has found that older fathers are more likely to sire children with disorders like autism and ADHD. While scientists have been scrutinizing maternal age for years, this study is part of a new trend examining the relationship between paternal age at childbirth and mental health issues in children.

The research team based their work on an exceptionally large dataset that included everyone born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001. They evaluated the differences in psychological well-being between children born to fathers of various ages. They controlled for parents’ highest levels of education and income, both of which are thought to balance the effects of advancing paternal age.

Ultimately, they focused their analysis on the increase in risk for disorders between a child born to a 25-year-old father and a 45-year-old father. Children born to the older father are 13 times more likely to have ADHD and 3.5 times more likely to have autism. Furthermore, children with older dads are 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder, 2.5 times as likely to exhibit suicidal behaviors, and twice as likely to have a psychotic disorder.

These findings could be important for public and social policy decisions. Parental age has been increasing for both men and women in the last decades, but scientists are still working to understand the implications of having children later in life.

“While the findings do not indicate that every child born to an older father will have these problems, they add to a growing body of research indicating that advancing paternal age is associated with increased risk for serious problems. As such, the entire body of research can help to inform individuals in their personal and medical decision-making,” stated Brian D’Onofrio, lead author and associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at IU.

This research is published in JAMA Psychology.

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