How does paternal age affect a baby's health?

Answers from Roger W. Harms, M.D.

Women might not be the only ones who have biological clocks. While further research is needed, studies suggest that a man's age at the time of conception — also known as his paternal age — might pose health risks for his children.

For example, studies have associated advanced paternal age with:

  • Miscarriage. Some research suggests that women who become pregnant by older men are at slightly higher risk of miscarriage.
  • Autism. Children born to men 40 and older seem to be more likely to develop autism than children of men younger than 30.
  • Birth defects. Although the overall risk is exceedingly low, older men are more likely to father babies who have certain rare birth defects — such as the bone growth disorder achondroplasia.
  • Schizophrenia. Children born to men 50 and older seem to be more likely to develop the brain disorder schizophrenia than children of men younger than 25.
  • Cognitive impairment. In a 2009 study, children born to older men scored slightly lower on tests measuring concentration, memory, reading and reasoning skills through age 7.

Researchers believe that the increased risk of health conditions might be due to age-related genetic mutations in older men. Despite the increase in these risks, however, the overall risks remain small and less certain than those associated with advanced maternal age.

If you're older than 40 and you're considering fathering a baby or you're concerned about your reproductive health, consult your doctor.

June 27, 2012 See more Expert Answers