It appears that fathers are increasingly becoming older, often by a significant margin. Recently, it was confirmed that actor Al Pacino, who is 83 years old, is expecting a child with his 29-year-old girlfriend, Noor Alfallah. Joining him in the realm of late fatherhood is his occasional co-star Robert De Niro, who, at the age of 79, announced last month that he is expecting his seventh child.
These instances are not isolated, as numerous male actors, musicians, and even US presidents have had children later in life. Moreover, the average age of new fathers has been steadily rising over the years. Between 1972 and 2015, it increased by 3.5 years, with the average father in the US now being 30.9 years old. Additionally, 9% of fathers are at least 40 years old when their child is born. Unofficial claims occasionally emerge about even older men becoming fathers, although the oldest recorded father, according to Guinness World Records, was 92 years old.
However, becoming an older father comes with its share of risks. In December 2022, researchers from the University of Utah and other institutions published a comprehensive review on the impacts of “advanced paternal age” on fertility, pregnancy complications, and childhood health. Although studies involving men of Pacino’s age are rare due to their rarity, evidence suggests that the sperm of men in their forties and fifties exhibit lower quality in terms of volume, count, motility, and mutations.
These changes not only lead to a higher risk of infertility but also increase the likelihood of pregnancy loss after natural conception. Multiple studies have indicated that older fathers significantly raise the risk of miscarriage. Furthermore, the risks extend to post-birth diseases. It has been known since the 1950s that older fathers have a greater likelihood of having children with the genetic disorder achondroplasia. Over time, correlations with various other conditions have been discovered.
Studies from Stanford University, for instance, have linked advanced paternal age to increased risks of low birth weight, seizures in newborns, various childhood cancers, and congenital cardiac defects. However, it is important to note that the mechanisms behind these associations remain unclear. Other factors such as parental lifestyle and environmental pollution may also contribute to the outcomes.
Nevertheless, researchers have found that as men age, they accumulate mutations and DNA damage in their sperm cells, which can be passed on to future generations. Studies like these are changing the perspectives of doctors and scientists regarding fertility. While historically the focus has primarily been on female fertility and age when couples face conception difficulties, it is now evident that the age of the father also matters, even if male fertility declines at a slower pace and later in life compared to female fertility.
Currently, cases like Pacino’s and De Niro’s, as well as those of other men in their seventies, eighties, and nineties, remain uncommon. However, overall, fatherhood is no longer solely a young man’s pursuit. Since the 1970s, there has been a 27% decrease in the number of US fathers under the age of 30, while the number of fathers aged 45 to 49 has increased by up to 52%.
If these trends persist, the medical field, as well as societal attitudes, will undoubtedly need to adapt to accommodate the changing landscape of fatherhood.