science of us

Is Advanced Paternal Age 35, Too?

Photo: Boris Zerwann/Getty Images/iStockphoto

If you’re a woman having a baby over the age of 35, you’re of “advanced maternal age.” (And if you’re pregnant, it’s technically been considered a “geriatric pregnancy,” although the term has fallen out of favor.) No such age threshold exists for fathers entering “advanced paternal age,” however. Which is maybe nice; I don’t know. I’m almost 36, and I spend a lot of time thinking about this. In any case, we’re edging closer to a number for men, too. And it’s either 35 or 45.

According to a new review of studies involving older fathers, the average man’s reproductive capacity may similarly decline at 35, and men might want to consider freezing their sperm before they reach that age. The paper reviewed studies in which advanced paternal age was defined as either 35 or 45, noting that 10 percent of babies today are born to fathers over 45, whereas 40 years ago the number was only 4 percent. Babies born to fathers of advanced paternal age, the review found, have more complications than babies born to younger fathers, regardless of the mother’s age. Advanced paternal age also corresponds to a slight risk in pregnancy complications for the mother.

It’s sort of nice — almost embarrassing — to realize that this study makes the age threshold seem less dire. Specifically, it doesn’t affect my desire to have kids with someone despite his being over 35; the idea seems almost absurd. I’ve always wondered if the reverse is true, though — if men read this stuff about women losing fertility at 35, and if it then affects their choices. More than that, actually, I wonder how much of this information even reaches them in the first place. I’m tempted to poll 50 random guys at the New York Magazine office or something.

Gizmodo also covered the study, and I was touched by the way writer Ed Cara ended his story: “But regardless of what’s causing this link, it’s worth remembering that most children, even those born to older parents, will enter the world without any serious health complications.” Sometimes I wonder if all this news around fertility blinds me to the fact that life is a mystery and we are not owed anything.

Is Advanced Paternal Age 35, Too?