Your patients are waiting longer to become fathers

 

The decision to have children is one that most adults don't take lightly. And it is becoming increasingly clear that it also appears to be a decision that many are pushing off until later in life.

In public discourse, most studies that look at the age of parenthood and its effects focus on the mother, where it is clear that women are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a national survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average age of first-time mothers increased from 24.9 in 2000 to 26.3 in 2014. Though a small shift, the numbers indicate a more significant trend, bolstered by falling teen pregnancy rates and a rise in women who want to establish a career before starting a family.

However, mothers aren't the only ones who are delaying parenthood. In the U.S., men are also waiting until later in life to become fathers, which can bring about both challenges and advantages.

Men are waiting to become fathers

When it comes to examining the effects of becoming a parent later in life, numerous studies have looked at how fertility and the health of children are affected by the age of the mother. But a recent study published August 2017 in the journal Human Reproduction looked instead at the male partners in the parenting spectrum over the last four decades.

"Most data on rising parental ages in the U.S. has been restricted to mothers," said study author Michael Eisenberg, assistant professor of urology at the Stanford University Medical Center. "We wanted to examine trends in paternal demographics based on the data available on birth certificates since the 1970s."

The researchers performed a retrospective data analysis of paternal age from 1972 to 2015. According to the findings of the study, during this time the average age of first-time-fathers rose from 27.4 to 30.9 years. Though the exact age varied by race, region and education level, an upward trend in paternal age was still apparent when separating men into these categories.

As it becomes more common for your male patients to wait longer to have children, you may need to counsel them on both the risks and advantages of becoming a father later in life.

Men who want to become fathers later in life may face physical challenges, but are also often more equipped for the role.  Men who want to become fathers later in life may face physical challenges, but are also often more equipped for the role.

Challenges of older fathers

Though waiting to become a father is becoming more common, that doesn't mean that it's without challenges. Male fertility has not been as closely tied to that of women, but age can have an impact on men's ability to have children, despite the fact that most men are physically capable of becoming fathers much later in life than their female partners.

A study from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School found that in IVF treatments for women under the age of 30, the age of their male partner had an impact on the success of the procedure. The chance of a live birth was 73 percent when the man was 30 to 35 years old. But when the male partner was 40 to 42 years old, the success rate fell to 46 percent.

"This is something we've suspected is the case, that male age probably has an effect on the success rate of fertility treatment," Raj Mathur, clinical lead for reproductive medicine at Manchester Fertility, told The Guardian. "It is important and perhaps clinicians should start, when they are counseling couples, to take into account the age of the man as well."

While it is not completely clear what causes this decrease in fertility, research has found that sexual function and sperm parameters can be affected as men age, which could play a role.

However, if your patients are concerned about becoming fathers at an older age, you can also remind them that there are benefits to having a child later in life.

For instance, a 2017 study found that older fathers have sons with higher IQs who are less concerned about fitting in - in a word, they're "geekier." But that's certainly not a bad thing.

"Our primary hypothesis is that higher levels of those 'geeky' traits in offspring of older men are mainly due is due [sic] to characteristics of the fathers themselves," study author Magdalena Janecka told Newsweek. "Men who decide to delay fatherhood often do so due to their extended career and educational pursuits, and likely themselves display higher levels of 'geekiness.'"

Due to these pursuits, these men are likely also more stable and prepared to raise a child. So while older males could theoretically have a harder time impregnating their partner, their children may benefit from the time that they took to focus on their own education and career pursuits before becoming a father.

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