Summary: Children of older dads may have certain advantages over their peers in educational and career settings, a new study reports.
Source: King’s College London.
New King’s College London research suggests that sons of older fathers are more intelligent, more focused on their interests and less concerned about fitting in, all characteristics typically seen in ‘geeks’.
While previous research has shown that children of older fathers are at a higher risk of some adverse outcomes, including autism and schizophrenia, this new study published today in Translational Psychiatry suggests that children of older fathers may also have certain advantages over their peers in educational and career settings.
The researchers from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States collected behavioural and cognitive data from 15,000 UK-based twin pairs in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS).
When the twins were 12 years old, they 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. Overall, higher geek index scores were reported in the sons of older fathers. This effect persisted after controlling for parent’s social/economic status, qualifications and employment. In addition, they found that ‘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.
Dr Magdalena Janecka from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai, said: ‘Our study suggests that there may be some benefits associated with having an older father. 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.’
Although the study did not directly investigate the role of environmental factors, there are a number of potential reasons why older fathers may have ‘geekier’ sons. For example, older fathers are likely to have more established careers and a higher socioeconomic status than younger fathers, meaning that their children may be brought up in more enriched environments and have access to better schooling.
These results also have implications for understanding links between higher paternal age, autism and characteristics typically seen in ‘geeks’. Although the researchers could not measure it directly, they hypothesise that some of the genes for geekiness and for autism are overlapping, and that those genes are more likely to be present in older fathers. Dr Janecka added: ‘When the child is born only with some of those genes, they may be more likely to succeed in school. 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.’
Source: Jack Stonebridge – King’s College London
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Original Research: Full open access research for “Advantageous developmental outcomes of advancing paternal age” by M Janecka, F Rijsdijk, D Rai, A Modabbernia & A Reichenberg in Translational Psychiatry. Published online June 20 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2017.125
Advantageous developmental outcomes of advancing paternal age
Advanced paternal age (APA) at conception has been associated with negative outcomes in offspring, raising concerns about increasing age at fatherhood. Evidence from evolutionary and psychological research, however, suggests possible link between APA and a phenotypic advantage. We defined such advantage as educational success, which is positively associated with future socioeconomic status. We hypothesised that high IQ, strong focus on the subject of interest and little concern about ‘fitting in’ will be associated with such success. Although these traits are continuously distributed in the population, they cluster together in so-called ‘geeks’. We used these measures to compute a ‘geek index’ (GI), and showed it to be strongly predictive of future academic attainment, beyond the independent contribution of the individual traits. GI was associated with paternal age in male offspring only, and mediated the positive effects of APA on education outcomes, in a similar sexually dimorphic manner. The association between paternal age and GI was partly mediated by genetic factors not correlated with age at fatherhood, suggesting contribution of de novo factors to the ‘geeky’ phenotype. Our study sheds new light on the multifaceted nature of the APA effects and explores the intricate links between APA, autism and talent.
“Advantageous developmental outcomes of advancing paternal age” by M Janecka, F Rijsdijk, D Rai, A Modabbernia & A Reichenberg in Translational Psychiatry. Published online June 20 2017 doi:10.1038/tp.2017.125