What are the dangers of being an older father?
This week, representatives of actor Al Pacino, 83, confirmed that he is having a baby with his girlfriend, 29-year-old Noor Alfallah. He will be joined in the club of late fathers by actor Robert De Niro, who last month confirmed that he is also fathering his seventh child at the age of 79.
The two actors are certainly not old first fathers. Many other male actors, musicians and even US presidents have had children late in life. And the average age of new fathers in general has been increasing over the years. Between 1972 and 2015 it increased by 3.5 years. The average father in the US is 30.9 years old, and 9% of fathers were at least 40 years old when their first child was born.
The oldest father ever, at least according to Guinness World Records, was 92 years old.
However, becoming a father at such an age carries risks.
In December 2022, researchers from the University of Utah and other institutions published a study of "advanced paternal age" and its effects on fertility, pregnancy problems and childhood health.
While many of the studies likely did not include men Pacino's age, due to how uncommon they are, evidence suggests that the sperm of men in their forties and fifties is already of lower quality for in terms of volume, count, mobility and mutations.
"These changes imply that advanced paternal age is strongly associated with a high risk not only of infertility, but also of pregnancy loss after natural conception," the researchers wrote. Some studies, they point out, have shown that an older father significantly increases the risk of miscarriage.
Then there is the risk of postpartum illness. It has been known since the 1950s that older fathers are more likely to have children with the genetic disorder achondroplasia.
"It has become increasingly clear that advanced paternal age, like advanced maternal age, is associated with poor health outcomes in offspring," the Utah researchers wrote.
Researchers at Stanford University found that an older father was linked to an increased risk of low birth weight and seizures in newborns. Advanced paternal age is also associated with increased rates of various childhood cancers, as well as congenital heart defects.
However, it is worth remembering that like many studies that examine links between health and potential causes, the mechanisms are unclear. There may be other complicating factors that play a role, such as parents' lifestyles and environmental pollution.
Megjithatë, studiuesit kanë zbuluar se ndërsa meshkujt plaken, ata mund të kapin mutacione dhe dëmtime të ADN-së në qelizat që formojnë spermën që më pas mund t'i kalohet brezit të ardhshëm.
Studime si këto po çojnë në ndryshime në mënyrën se si mjekët dhe shkencëtarët mendojnë për fertilitetin në përgjithësi. Historikisht, ka pasur një tendencë për t'u fokusuar te gruaja dhe mosha e saj kur një çift ka probleme me konceptimin. Në të vërtetë, pjesa më e madhe e hulumtimit është fokusuar në fertilitetin femëror. Por tani po bëhet e qartë se edhe mosha e babait ka ende rëndësi.
For now, the cases of Pacino, De Niro and other men in their seventies, eighties and nineties remain a rarity. But in general, fatherhood is no longer a young man's game. Since the 1970s, the number of American fathers under the age of 30 has decreased by 27%, while the number of fathers aged 45-49 has increased by 52%.
If current trends continue, medicine, not to mention social attitudes, will undoubtedly have to adapt.