Sharing the Biological Clock

I am pushing forty, and when I say pushing forty–I mean pushing forty. I have one child, and would like to have another one in the near future. Up until last Sunday, when Lisa Belkin, columnist for the New York Times, published a piece exploring new data that indicates that men my age, and younger even, may not have all the time in world to procreate, I lived in a state of false confidence.

This false confidence consisted of the faith that, while my wife was held by the constraints of her biological clock, I (and other men of similar advancing age) were free to inseminate and breed well into our golden years. Now it would be disingenuous for me to say that I had no knowledge of these stats or these claims prior to reading this report (I did), but there is something about reading it in plain black and white that helps you identify the unmistakable tick of your own biological clock.

A friend of mine who is over forty, unmarried, and toying with the idea of getting married and having children, periodically will call me to get a window into the loving bounty and rampant frustrations of parenthood. When he contends with the idea of putting off parenthood for a few more years, he will usually say something like, “Well, I don’t want to be too old to kick around a ball with my child.” According to a report sited in the aforementioned article, he may have larger issues of concern than being able to play ball. Researchers at the University of Queensland found that children born to older fathers have, on average, lower scores on tests of intelligence than those born to younger dads. In addition, other studies have indicated there is an increased risk of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, and that the chances of successfully conceiving a child begins to diminish once the man is older than thirty-five and falls sharply if he is older than forty.

Now you should take what you will from this data, as the results certainly shouldn’t dissuade anyone from attempting to have children. If anything it might motivate prospective parents to speed the plough (so to speak). Data is data, and as we all know everything is subject to dispute, as well as exception. The more interesting aspect of this report (as noted by author Lisa Belkin) is how this impacts traditional gender dynamics around the subject of having children. Typically (and I am generalizing here) it is thought that women, due to a limited window of opportunity, hold much more awareness, as well as enthusiasm, about the prospect of having children, and that men tend to hold off the inevitable procreation until a desired comfort level is reached (financial stability, etc). While these new findings don’t exactly reverse that paradigm, they do sort of even the playing field.

If prospective fathers are serious about becoming actualized fathers of healthy and hearty children, they best adopt a little bit of urgency on the matter and drop the “all the time in the world” attitude.

So scare tactics aside, how do you think these new findings will potentially impact the existing gender clash around if and when to have children? Does it change anything? Will men change their tune and start charting their partner’s basal body temperature as they sleep? Or are we in for more of the same?

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

Parenting at the Crossroads

22 comments

Patti C.
Mary-Kay L8 years ago

Judging from some of these comments it seems like the world is divided between people who think that its okay to have a child whatever age you are, and those who think there should be laws against it. What ever happened to personal choice, tolerance, and acceptance? I think its worse to have a child at age 21 just because your body says its okay if your life does not accomodate the time and other commitments required to be an attentive parent. I can personally say that I was not mature or secure enough to dedicate my life to parenthood until I was about 35. Then I had to meet a partner with shared values, fall in love, and plan for the future with that person. So I had my first child at age 39 and I plan to have another soon, probably when I'm about 43. While I realize that there are risks involved, are they any worse than the risks of having had a child in the immature state I was 20 years ago or the with the guy I was with back then? I think not.

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Genevieve O.
Genevieve O8 years ago

I had my children at age 38 and 39 and they are both now healthy, energetic and ambitious teenagers 15 and 16.

Go for it, parenting is such a wonderful part of life.

I dont think there is a good or bad time to have children. Some people love to have children when they are physically young and have energy, but there is a lot to be said for parenting later when you have lots of life experience to pass on. and yes the energy levels can be lower but a calm approach to parenting is wonderful also.

There is nothing so wonderful as parents who want to parent children and nothing so sad and deflating that parents who have children but really dont want them or the responsibility of them. But every life is a life worth living and the parenting we get or dont get is part of the challenge that forms us.

Give the best that you have to your children and to other peoples children and somehow we will make the world a better place !

love and light Gen

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Christine C.
Christine C8 years ago

This is my third attempt! Bad web design!

Wow! So much negativity in some of these comments. Having a child is a beautiful and wonderful experience. I live in Canada, and from what I remember in my World Demographics Economics course, we(Canadians) are not producing enough offspring to replace our current population and are having to rely on immigration to support our country. So I do not feel that my having children harms the planet, though I can see that some parts of the world do have this problem. Also, adoption is not as easy or inexpensive as some people have commented, it takes a long time and is an arduous process, and I don't like the fact that your child can be taken away from you by the birth parents or other circumstances.

Getting back to what the author was discussing...I am 38 weeks pregnant with my second child. I waited as long as I thought safe to be financially stable, but there is never a "perfect" time, to have kids. My first was conceived when I was 27 and this child when I was 30 and I do believe that age affects the outcome of your child's health. "Eggs" have an expiration date, and now men will have to share the burden! It is about time that science catches up with my long held belief that it is not just the woman's age who affects the health of the baby. Why would we think that the quality of men's sperm don't age and deteriote with time as our eggs do? Men should be thinking about it, but who knows if they will...The more important qu

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Janet T.
Janet T8 years ago

"Inevitable procreation"?! Are you kidding me? Parenthood is a choice, not a mandate, and if you choose to reproduce on this overpopulated planet, the best word for you is selfish. We all collectively pay for the offspring of others, and I am sick and tired of doing so so that people like you can indulge your ego. Adopt an older child in need. Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Do anything but breed, please.

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Frances Harrison
Frances Harrison8 years ago

Adria, depending on the child you wish to adopt, your options are:

Private adoption in the US - expensive and many private adoption agencies don't allow single women to adopt.

Via the US foster care system - Children generally, not infants, removed from biological parents due to abuse or neglect. In many cases, single parent home is preferred. Cost is usually negligible. Many kids qualify for Medicaid to age 18 and free college tuition at state university. Contact child services or adoptuskids.org for more info.

International Adoption - varies widely as to single women adopting. Also cost can be very high. You need to find an international adoption agency sanctioned by both the US State Department and the country of prospective adoption. Contact the US Department of State website for basic information about international adoption.

Good luck with your search. God willing, you'll find what you're looking for. All the best.

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Sylvia B.
Sylvia B8 years ago

While it does make sense that the viability of a person's reproductive parts (sperm or eggs) may diminish, I am not too keen on the idea of people in their early 20's jumping right in and having kids just because of the ticking clock. I was raised by a mom who got married when she was 19 and had me a year later. Qiite frankly, it was like being raised by an irresponsible teenager, with her whining about how dad held her back (even after he died). If people want kids that badly, they can adopt, or better yet, volunteer at some kid-oriented organizations, such as tuturing school kids, hosting special parties for them, be a Big Brother/Big Siter, or whatever if you need your "kid fix". Because of also having to contend with alcoholism and recently discovering that bipolar disorder runs in my family, I have no guilt nor regrets about not having kids and worring about passing those diseases onto them. Withe economy being as crappy as it is, it would break my heart to see them having to compete with unemployed auto workers for McDonald's jobs - and lose out.

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Charlie L.
Charlie L8 years ago

It's something each individual must decide for themselves. For myself though I think having children after age forty is usually not good for the child. When the generation gap between parent and child is exceptionally wide by the time the kid is in first grade the parents are likely to be thinking like they are still living way back in the last century. I think it's too hard for the child to go to school where his peers all live a fairly modern lifestyle and then have to go home to parents who live like they did at the start of the last century. I'm just speaking from experience. I may not be typical of those who had very old parents.
But for me, it was hard growing up in that kind of family in a shack with no running water or indoor toilets. My father who was born in 1896 thought it was okay, but I thought it was hell and I would'nt wish it on anyone, especially a child.

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Jennifer R.
Jennifer R8 years ago

Peter, I pray for the day when men like you are not on a path to control the world.

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Peter Harrell
Peter Harrell8 years ago

Gah! I'm so sick of people whining selfishly about indulging some primitive need to breed - and they are usually the same ones willing to inflict more taxes for schools, etc on the rest of us who responsibly have no kids. I pray for the day when breeders are criminalized, and you have to pass strict genetic tests and have a license to be a parent.

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