Older Fathers Have ‘Geekier’ Sons, Study Finds
Older fathers get a bad rap; aside from telling bad jokes, paternal age is also associated with a higher risk of autism and schizophrenia, among other conditions, in kids. But a new study has found that sons of older fathers are more intelligent, more focused on their interests and less concerned about fitting in. In other words, as the study authors put it, the sons are ‘geekier.’
The study followed 15,000 UK-based twin pairs enrolled in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). At age 12, the twins completed online tests that measured ‘geek-like’ traits, including non-verbal IQ, strong focus on the subject of interest and levels of social aloofness. Parents were also asked whether their child cares about how they are perceived by their peers and if they have any interests that take up substantial majority of their time. Using this information, the researchers computed a ‘geek index’ for every child in the study. Male children of older fathers scored more highly on the geek index, even after controlling for parent’s social/economic status, qualifications and employment. (While the study did not designate an age cut-off for older fathers, the authors noted ‘geekiness’ in sons increased a bit more when fathers were 45 or older.)
Study authors frame this as a positive thing: They found the ‘geekier’ children do better in school exams, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, several years after their geek index was measured.
“Our study suggests that there may be some benefits associated with having an older father,” said Dr. Magdalena Janecka from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai. “We have known for a while about the negative consequences of advanced paternal age, but now we have shown that these children may also go on to have better educational and career prospects.”
The study did not directly look into environmental influences that could have shaped the ‘geekier’ traits exhibited by male children of older fathers, but researchers posit older fathers are likely to have more established careers and a higher socioeconomic status than younger fathers, meaning their children may be brought up in more enriched environments and have access to better schooling.
The researchers also hypothesise that some of the genes for geekiness and for autism overlap, which explains why both are linked to paternal age.
“When the child is born only with some of those genes, they may be more likely to succeed in school,” Dr. Janecka explained. “However, with a higher ‘dose’ of these genes, and when there are other contributing risk factors, they may end up with a higher predisposition for autism. This is supported by recent research showing that genes for autism are also linked with higher IQ.”
Researchers from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai contributed to this study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.