By Vivian Manning-Schaffel
Try as science might to discern the ‘right’ age to have children, the window remains a shifting target. For example, the ideal timeframe from a biological standpoint may not prove ideal from a social-emotional standpoint. There’s also the gap in biological clocks between men and women to consider in examining the health benefits and detriments of parenting at various ages.
As any pregnant woman "of advanced maternal age" will tell you, the risks of carrying a child over the age of 35 are well-documented. The March of Dimes states pregnant women over the age of 35 could face potentially dangerous complications, such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and high blood pressure. There are also many risks of complications that can affect the offspring of an older mom, such as premature birth and an increased risk of Down Syndrome. A recent Danish study followed children over an 18-year period and found children born to older moms had an increased risk of developing mental disorders, heart diseases, circulatory diseases, and congenital malformations.
Though, unlike women, male reproductive organs don’t come with as boldly written an expiration date requiring medical (or divine) intervention, numerous recent studies have revealed that sperm does, indeed, get old, and advanced paternal age can also contribute to certain health issues of their children. One study attributes age-related mutations in sperm to an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), while another study attributes older sperm to a 10-20 percent increased risk of psychiatric illness.
All this said, emerging science also reveals a bevy of benefits to be experienced by both parents and their offspring during what experts almost offensively refer to as advanced maternal or paternal age, and they’re mighty compelling, to boot.
YOU MAY HAVE YOURSELF A SMARTY PANTS
Turns out, if you’re an older dad, odds are your kid will be a brain. A study just published in Translational Psychiatry provided evidence that older fathers tend to sire “geekier” progeny. Researchers from both the U.K and U.S. examined data of 15,000 sets of twins collected from tests to measure their “geek” traits (including I.Q., Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) grades, interests and social skills) at the age of 12. Researchers compiled that information, as well as input from their parents, to craft a “geek index score” to run up against their parent’s ages. They learned that kids born to older dads are more likely to have a high IQ, and a stronger ability to focus on their interests. Also, they aren’t as distracted by a desire to fit in socially, and are thus more likely to achieve what they called “educational success,” which leads to a stronger socioeconomic status.
YOUR KIDS MIGHT LIVE LONGER
Though, for both genders of parents, advanced age carries an increased risk of the development of chromosomal abnormalities in utero, one 2012 Harvard University study shows a link between advanced paternal age and chromosomes that lead to longer life spans. As it turns out, aging sperm might produce children with longer telomeres, or tips of chromosomes, that protect DNA while being copied, which is linked to longevity for not one, but two generations of offspring.
YOU'RE MORE EMOTIONALLY PREPARED
According to Live Science, University of California, San Francisco researches conducted a small study that set out to establish an “optimal” age for parenting. Most respondents believed being an “older” parent was more advantageous than being a younger parent, mostly because they were more “emotionally prepared.” Parents of both genders in the study overwhelmingly said their 30s would’ve been the ideal parenting era. Other advantages of being an older parent? More career success, financial security and stronger relationships with their partners.