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Autism and Schizophrenia Risk is Dictated by Age of Father

For a long time, women have faced this dilemma: Biology wants one thing (babies, now!) and culture wants another (maybe a baby or a few eventually, after you finish your education, start your career, travel a bit, and meet somebody really special). It’s totally unfair. And we’ve always thought we were alone in this. Women have a window of fertility, but men can father children forever. Or so we’ve been taught. But starting this week, that thinking might change…

Men's Biological Clock

The latest and most extensive study of the effect of a father’s age on genetic quality came out this week, and the news is grim. A 20-year-old father endows his offspring with about 25 mutations—mostly harmless, but small tweaks to the genetic code that could potentially cause problems for the child. A 40-year-old father bequeaths about 65 mutations. The study also adds to previous evidence that older fathers are more likely to have children who develop autism, schizophrenia, and other brain disorders, probably because so many genes are required for the proper care and feeding of developing brains.

Finally, we don’t have to face these fears alone right? Ann Friedman at NY Mag breaks down why we care so much. The reason, she says, is women’s deep, latent, kinda passive-aggressive yearning for a male biological clock:

“We’ve long wanted to share not just the parenting burden with a partner, but also our fertility anxieties. And here’s some solid science that shows we’re not alone. Or rather, that we shouldn’t be alone. We resent being asked by older relatives and well-meaning coworkers if we’re planning for kids yet, while our brothers and uncles and boyfriends are blissfully unquestioned. Rather than come right out say, ‘the way we talk about age and gender is fucked up’—because then we’d be not just dried-up, but dried-up and bitter—we express our annoyance and anxiety by recirculating the same handful of studies about sperm that’s passed its expiration date.”

She’s totally right! I hate being asked if the husband and I are thinking about kids. I hate that he’s never the one asked! Why is it always the woman? Is it because we’ve been tricked into wanting it all? Trust me, I haven’t even finished the laundry I started on SUNDAY, so I’m pretty much terrified at taking on all the things. What gives me maybe a little bit of hope about this study is that it’s a step on the track of sharing our responsibilities. As Lindy West writes for Jezebel, “It’s [feminism] about sharing burdens. It’s, ‘Dear partner, Please help me carry some of this anxiety, because it’s heavy and you love me.’ Or it’s, ‘Dear society, Please take some of this anxiety off of me, because you guys are being dicks and I’m tired.’” Yes.

Our verdict: OMG (and YAY). I’m not sure how many studies it’ll take until men in their 30s are fielding questions about whether they’re freezing their sperm, or until they’re casually deflecting questions about their plans to have children. But I am pretty sure that time is coming. I really hope it’s soon. Because I don’t know how many times I can deflect the kiddos question without blowing up…

One thought on “Autism and Schizophrenia Risk is Dictated by Age of Father

  1. Perhaps they ask the woman because in the end it’s her choice to have kids or not. That’s the way I see it when people ask.

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