By Anne Kingston - Friday, February 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Older moms get the blame for genetic defects in offspring. Turns out aging dads may be an even bigger problem.
Recent news that artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel was having a baby with his fiancée, 30-year-old assistant gallery director and Victoria’s Secret model May Anderson, was met with the rolled-eyed indulgence that typically greets April-November procreation among the rich and famous—an orbit in which men siring children in their 50s, 60s and even 70s is a badge of virility, even a bragging point. Schnabel joins a long list that includes Rupert Murdoch, Donald Trump, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin, Tony Randall and, of course, Pierre Trudeau, who fathered a daughter when he was 72.
The high-proﬁle parade perpetuates entrenched thinking about the male-female reproduction divide: that women’s shelf life expires with menopause in her mid-40s, give or take a few years, while men’s constantly replenishing sperm allows them to procreate with impunity until the day they die (albeit with a boost from Viagra). It’s a biological double standard that has underlined cultural definitions of sexual—and social—viability for centuries.
But it’s also part fiction, according to a mounting body of scientific research that suggests sperm too has a best-before date. Increasingly we’re learning that the older the father, the higher the rate of infertility. And his children seem to have lower birth weights, some cancers, autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, Down syndrome and bipolar disease. Maternal age, a topic of ceaseless debate and directives hurled at women, is, it turns out, only one part of the story.