A child born to a father 45 or older is three and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with autism, more than 13 times more likely to have attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (
Suicide attempts and substance use problems were also found to be more than twice as common in children born to older fathers than those with younger dads, and rates of academic failure -- staying back a grade -- and low educational attainment were higher in those with older fathers than in those with younger ones.
The new research, published online first in JAMA Psychiatry, used a Swedish database that tracked more than 2.6 million children born between 1973 and 2001 to flesh out the effects of advanced paternal age on the mental health and academic success of those men's children.
As the age of childbearing couples increases throughout the developed world, the study's findings reinforce concern that men, too, have biological clocks: The sperm of older men show greater rates of spontaneous genetic mutation. And as the father's age increases, the DNA of a newborn child is more likely to show such spontaneous mutations (a factor, for instance, in many cases of autism). Past studies have found higher-than-expected rates of autism, bipolar disorder,
The authors of the study -- from
Although the authors of the study acknowledge their findings do not establish a causal link between a father's age and a child's emotional and academic vulnerability, they conclude that their findings are consistent with the hypothesis that more frequent mutations in the sperm of older men is "causally related" to their childrens' higher risk of poor outcomes.