How old is too old to have children? Scientists have known for a long time that older women have a higher risk of giving birth to a child with certain genetic disorders, like down syndrome, but new research suggests that the father’s age is also a contributing factor. Older father’s are more likely to have children with a mental illness, like autism or schizophrenia.
The Malaysian Mental Health Survey(MMHS) showed that kids born to fathers 19-years-old or younger had just a 9% chance of developing a mental disorder. That number jumps to 24% when the father is at least 11-years older than the mother. The MMHS found that when the father was over 50 and 11-years-older than the mother, the rate of mental illness was 42%.
Scientists believe that a father’s age is a contributing factor toward the risk of mental illness in a child, but they aren’t exactly sure if the problem is biological or environmental.
Psychiatry professor John McGrath notes that when a boy hits puberty his sperm cells divide every 16 days, and that more divisions translate to more genetic alterations.
“By the time a man is 40, his sperm cells have undergone 660 cell divisions, and 800 cell divisions by age 50.”
Another theory suggest that the outside factors could be the reason why a man’s sperm “goes bad.” The Scientific American points to children born during the Vietnam War whose parents were exposed to herbicide agent orange. SA also notes that years of drinking and smoking could also cause mutations in a man’s sperm.
So how old is too old to have children?
In a study published in November by Christina Hultman, an epidemiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, research showed that the risk for mental illness spiked for father’s over the age of 40. Men between 40 and 49 were 1.4 times more likely to have children autism than men between the ages of 15 and 29. The risk increased for men above the age of 50, and at 54, men were 4.4 times more likely to have a child with autism.
Last night, Beyonce announced that she was pregnant with Jay-Z’s child. Beyonce, 29, is more than 11-years younger than her husband, which puts their child at a higher risk of mental illness. But with all the looks, talent, money and love heading that child’s way, I think he/she is going to be OK.