A recent report concluded that “even if the genetic risk for progeny from older fathers is slightly increased, the risk to the individual is low”.9
But as our appreciation of the genetic contribution to disease risk develops it seems probable that, if the current trends in timing of fatherhood continue, the consequences at a population level may nevertheless be worth considering further. The adverse health outcomes discussed here should be weighed up against potential social advantages for children born to older fathers who are more likely to have progressed in their career and to have achieved financial security. For example, data from the national child development study show that young fathers are more likely to come from economically disadvantaged families and to have lower educational attainment21
; the labour force survey22
found increasing income with age for men up to their early 40s. Socioeconomic factors such as educational level and occupation are currently associated with many health outcomes. For example people from less affluent backgrounds are less likely to use prenatal care services23
but more likely to give birth to premature or low birthweight infants.24
However, potential social disadvantages of increased paternal age should also be considered, such as less energetic parents and decreased likelihood of the child benefiting from long term relationships with grandparents. Furthermore, as it becomes more common for men to become parents in later adulthood, the current (relatively affluent) socioeconomic composition of older fathers will change, and therefore the relative socioeconomic advantages of having an older father are likely to diminish. An evaluation of various scenarios may help to determine an optimal period of fatherhood balancing the social and economic advantages for the offspring of delayed paternity against the corresponding small, but increasingly well reported, genetic disadvantages. Such an evaluation would inform policy. Possible interventions might include health promotion advising people about the risk of delaying childbearing or changes at a societal level (for example, family benefits, flexible working) that encourage couples to have children earlier rather than later.