father and son walking on a beach
June 21, 2017

Older fathers are more likely to have ‘geekier’ sons

Men who wait until they are older to have children are more likely to have sons who are “geeks,” meaning that they tend to be more intelligent, more focused, and more socially distant, according to new research published online Tuesday in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

The study was led by Magdalena Janecka from King’s College London and the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment in New York. It examined nearly 8,000 twins from the UK and found that having an older father could boost a child’s performance in technical studies.

As The Guardian and the Toronto Sun explained, Janecka and her colleagues examined surveys from children, looked at their non-verbal IQ scores at the age of 12 and gathered parental reports on their focus level and degree of social aloofness. Each of those factors was then combined to calculate what the scientists referred to as an overall “geek index” score.

They found that the average score of children born to fathers aged 25 of younger was 39.6, while the offspring of dads who were 35-44 years of age scored 41. The “geek index” figure rose to 47 for kids whose fathers were at least 50 years of age, and boys were most affected, with the score increasing by about 1.5 points per 5 years of paternal age, according to the study authors.

In their paper, Janecka’s team wrote that this is the first time that advanced parental age has been associated with an advantageous outcome – and as she emphasized to The Guardian, the findings should certainly be considered positive. “If you look at who does well in life right now,” she told the newspaper, “it’s geeks.”

Findings may help explain link between father’s age and autism

Previous studies, including one from Janecka and her colleagues, had found that children born to older fathers face an increased risk of autism, schizophrenia and related conditions. In their new study, however, she said that there “may be some benefits” for men who wait to have kids.

“We have known for a while about the negative consequences of advanced paternal age,” the King’s College researcher explained in a statement, but now we have shown that these children may also go on to have better educational and career prospects.”

The study also found that these “geekier” children did better on school exams, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, long after their overall scores were initially measured. In fact, The Guardian said, children who were born when their fathers were at least 50 years of age were 32% more likely to receive top marks on UK-based technical certification tests than those born to men no older than age 25.

Higher “geek index” scores were far more prevalent among boys born to older dads that girls and the researchers are uncertain why this might be the case. However, it may also help explain why males are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than females, the authors noted.

When it comes to geekiness, however, Janecka believes that the explanation may be far easier to determine: “Certain men who delay fatherhood tend to be better educated and have better jobs and a higher geek index and they pass those genetics onto their offspring,” she explained to The Guardian. “It causes them to delay fatherhood, but other factors might contribute too.”

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