February 27th, 2014
02:10 PM ET

Study: Children of older fathers face higher risk of psychiatric disorders

Do men have a biological clock of sorts? A large new study suggests they may.

Compared to younger fathers, older fathers' children were found to be significantly more at risk for a host of psychiatric disorders, according to the study, published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

For example, the children of fathers ages 45 and over were three times more likely to have an autism spectrum disorder, 13 times more likely to have ADHD, and 25 times more likely to have bipolar disorder than the children of fathers aged 20 to 24.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from 2.6 million children born in Sweden between 1973 and 2001, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive studies on the effects of paternal age.

"The working hypothesis is that as men get older and their sperm continue to replicate, that there are more chances of having mutations in the base pairs of the DNA," says Brian D'Onofrio, lead study author and associate professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University.

"Those genetic mutations are associated with psychiatric problems."

The age-related effects were gradual, researchers found; a 35-year-old man's child had greater risks than the child of a 25-year-old man.

A 2012 study  done by researchers in Iceland indicated that as many as 20% to 30% of cases of autism and schizophrenia may be linked to fathers' advanced age. Unlike findings on conditions such as Down syndrome, the Iceland study found the mother's age made no difference. For that study, researchers looked at genomes of 78 sets of parents and offspring. 

While most studies on this subject simply compare children born to young fathers with those of older fathers, D'Onofrio calls that method "comparing apples and oranges, because we know that young fathers differ on many things compared to older fathers."

Instead, D'Onofrio and his colleagues compared siblings; looking at the outcomes when the same man has a child in his younger years and then again later in life.

"That enabled us to get a better understanding of what's truly due to the advancing father's age at childbearing," says D'Onofrio.

soundoff (414 Responses)
  1. ahc8ak1sm3t

    Most people are mentally ill, and it doesn't take a study to know that. The people conducting the study are part of that group as well. Absolute joke in every way. By the way, check out the front page of CNN.com for the latest in jokes, weather and the Olympic games.

    February 28, 2014 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lilmama

      The first sentence of your comment made me laugh harder than i have laughed in a long time! Thanks for that! 😀

      February 28, 2014 at 02:52 | Report abuse |
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      March 4, 2014 at 21:04 | Report abuse |
    • B.cereus

      Ok, you can't be serious. This is a real scientific study. The idea that older fathers may be contributing to autism and schizophrenia instead of this Vaccine BS, is worth listening to. Instead, you're dismissing is as if it's nonsense. This is finally a legitimate reason why we are seeing more autism and ADHD. My father had me in his 30's, but he had my little sisters in his 50's. Not only should women be concerned with their age and child bearing, fathers now need to as well. This is landmarking. I was so enthralled when I read a recent development on sperm degradation as men age and now this. Very insightful, I think. Better than pointing fingers at boogeymen and propaganda.

      March 6, 2014 at 20:02 | Report abuse |
  2. Autism Mom

    Please, you come off sounding completely uneducated when you label autism as a psychiatric disorder.

    February 28, 2014 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mom with ADHD child

      Dear Autism Mom,
      Autism, ADHD, et al. are physical disorders of the brain, therefore they are psychiatric disorders. Very gently with great kindness, I ask you to learn more about your child's disorder.

      February 28, 2014 at 02:01 | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Uhm, autism IS a psychiatric disorder.. Diagnosis is based off DSM criteria published by the american PSYCHIATRIC association

      February 28, 2014 at 02:01 | Report abuse |
  3. Anatole France

    "Men have a biological clock too". The third "l" is superfluous.

    February 28, 2014 at 01:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. johny radio

    strangely, in my family, mental illness DECREASED with each new child. The first-born, when my dad was young, was schizophrenic. The 2nd born too. The 3rd born has not been diagnosed with anything but she's kinda loopy, and the 4th (born when my dad was in his 40's), is the most emotionally stable of all the kids.

    the reason: my parents both became more emotionally stable as they aged, so their parenting became less and less dysfunctional with each new child. And, the youngest child was left to his own devices much of the time since my parents were preoccupied with the older kids.

    February 28, 2014 at 02:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • johny radio

      "And, the youngest child was left to his own devices much of the time since my parents were preoccupied with the older kids...." ...so he had much less interaction with the parents than the first born, and was therefor less exposed to parental dysfunction while growing up.

      February 28, 2014 at 02:41 | Report abuse |
    • johny radio

      "less exposed to parental dysfunction while growing up"
      - which i believe is the most important factor. But in American Psychiatry, the importance of parenting is much downplayed, and biological factors are overblow, in order to sell more biological pharmacological treatments.

      February 28, 2014 at 02:44 | Report abuse |
    • Guest J

      ..so Johny Radio, which of the first three children are you?

      February 28, 2014 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
    • JAE1983

      Bad parenting causes all sorts of psychological problems, but it doesn't make you hallucinate. Your siblings would almost certainly have been schizophrenic regardless.

      March 1, 2014 at 03:09 | Report abuse |
  5. Bera Na Liva

    I'm with ahc8ak1sm3t ... we're all a little disturbed in our own ways ... some are a bit more obvious than others!

    February 28, 2014 at 05:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SchedulerLewis

      The pervasive mental illness of all families really becomes apparent around 'Holiday Time'. I remember sitting thru many family gatherings slightly intoxicated and happily stoned as everyone at the table sniped. None of them put the FUN into dysfunctional.

      March 1, 2014 at 06:28 | Report abuse |
  6. Ronster

    This is gonna put the brakes on the Male's Midlife crisis for sure. Who wants to be responsible for producing Challenged offspring, knowingly?!? O.K. guys give up on the Tenderoni's ! Dream time is all but over!!

    February 28, 2014 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. AJ

    My parents were 20 yr's apart so I have an older Father. However my Mother was fairly young when I was born. And there's a lot of mental and Emotional problems on all 7 of the siblings. I think it was because of the big age difference between my Parents.? They were never on (for lack of better words). never on the same page!?

    February 28, 2014 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. fixtheworld

    This is a non issue. just get your sperm frozen for mad cheap when you're young...

    February 28, 2014 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • keke1800

      that's just stupid

      March 1, 2014 at 10:48 | Report abuse |
    • B.cereus

      I wonder if you could? I'm not sure though because you would have to plan it just right, when you decided to have children and how long your sperm would last. I'm not sure if that's possible, but it sounds cool. We freeze eggs, so why not sperm? Makes perfect sense. Men could start their own sperm banks and use them when they're ready. I think it would be Insurance of sorts for responsible men who care about the possibility of contributing to a childs developmental issues.

      March 6, 2014 at 20:05 | Report abuse |
  9. RAD786

    Living in contemporary society everyone is at risk for mental disorders lol.

    Funny video can't stop laughing

    February 28, 2014 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • keke1800

      thank you

      March 1, 2014 at 10:46 | Report abuse |
  10. Mark Castro

    ummm....my father was 54 when I was born....im in perfect working order....minus absurd mental thoughts and the occasional belief that i can fly....what exactly was this study trying to prove? If you sampled the exact same amount of people in complete randomness from all over the world you would also find that some apparent "issues" arise.

    February 28, 2014 at 12:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. TulsaMom

    Sorry CNN, you botched the facts of a story once again. ADHD and Autism are NOT psychiatric disorders. Both are neurodevelopmental disorders – not the same. My child has both ADHD and ASD. Before the naysayers bash us parents and tell us to educate ourselves on these disorders, trust me when I tell you parents of these children know a significant amount about the disorders.

    February 28, 2014 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mandiski

      To me this story makes a lot of sense. I was just informed that my 10 year old may fall on the Spectrum. After years of proving he's not ADHD (his focus is to varied to fall under that category), he finally got a teacher that suggested we go in that direction. I'm getting a late start, but at least it's finally going in the right direction. Blessings to you and your family.

      February 28, 2014 at 22:48 | Report abuse |
    • kristal111peierls

      due to bad diet and chemicals in the diet no doubt. what kids are really suffering from is chemical overload.

      March 3, 2014 at 07:09 | Report abuse |
  12. Guest J

    Correction, which of the first two are you. Unless you are a female going by Johny, you must be one of the first two and therefore schizophrenic.....

    February 28, 2014 at 15:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Lewis

    I wonder what the the two living grand sons of our tenth president John Tyler would have to say about this.

    February 28, 2014 at 19:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • keke1800

      what does that have to do with this situation

      March 1, 2014 at 10:44 | Report abuse |
  14. Lisa

    This is such a ridiculous study! There are many contributing factors to mental illness. Not just old man genetics. Please! I know plenty of kids of younger parents who are way more messed up than my son could ever hope to me and my husband was 44 when we had him.

    February 28, 2014 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SchedulerLewis

      I don't know about that.....old sperm and old eggs....hmmmm......might not be the freshest embryo.....

      March 1, 2014 at 06:30 | Report abuse |
  15. JAE1983

    Is the control group the general population, or is it children the same parents had earlier in life? If it's the general population, of course the results are going to be skewed! I know a few men who had babies at 50+ with their much younger partners, and I wouldn't describe any of them as being entirely mentally healthy. Wanting a baby at 50+ isn't normal, nor is dating a man old enough to be your father. I'm not saying everyone who makes those choices is mentally unstable, but it's a far higher percentage than the general population. Common sense suggests that some of that is going to be passed on to the child through a combination of genetics and environment.

    March 1, 2014 at 03:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. jeb

    There is a medical name for children born of older parents. Does anyone know what it is?

    March 1, 2014 at 07:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Yes

      Yes. Really STUPID parents.

      March 4, 2014 at 15:53 | Report abuse |
  17. Anonymous

    If only they had come up with this kind of finding 30 years ago, before a lifetime of depression, difficulty in relationships and rejected ssd...(after 2 years of no word, only a screaming worker demanding I start from scratch lol). Autism spectrum is hard enough...like being given flippers instead of shoes.

    March 2, 2014 at 01:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Skeptic

    First of all, to the parents who are criticizing the articles use of "psychiatric" disorder when referring to autism... cool your jets. Neurodevelopmental disorders fall under field of psychiatry, so don't get all bent out of shape that a news article oversimplified a broad set of terms. Secondly, I find the information interesting regarding autism. So many parents love to point their finger at something/someone that caused their kid's autism. Despite zero evidence linking autism to vaccines (except for the Wakefield study, which has been proven to be both untrue and outright fraudulent) it's the most popular. Yet now we see an actual connection between a father's age and the child's autism... and the parents of autistic kids are criticizing the article's terminology rather than considering the new information.

    March 3, 2014 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Kim

    Some people are so eager to jump on the all-or-nothing and the conspiracy bandwagons. Let’s put the brakes on for a minute.

    Autism Spectrum Disorders are extremely complicated, and this study is simply saying that one potential contributing factor may be a father’s age. Just because you know many neuro-typical people with older fathers does not mean that the study is inaccurate—or accurate! If you look at the numbers more carefully, the study simply shows what appears to be more or less LIKELY. I have taught preschoolers on the spectrum for the last 8 years, and I can tell you first-hand that each child is different. Some of them are more/less severely affected than others, some have had more or fewer opportunities for helpful intervention, some families are better/worse-equipped to cope, some children have comorbid conditions while some don’t, and so on.

    This is not actually the first time I’ve heard that older parents (mother or father) may be a factor. What’s becoming clearer as the years pass is that there are some genetic factors that may set a person up for autism and others that might trigger the condition and make it manifest. As always, there’s good science out there and bad science—and plenty of misinformation, too—but that doesn’t mean that further studies (or previous ones) are unwarranted. If you know anyone affected by autism, you will be grateful that people are out there trying to help. If you don’t, you should consider closing your pie-hole and giving thanks.

    March 6, 2014 at 19:07 | Report abuse | Reply
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