New research shows that older fathers tend to have more intelligent children, who are less concerned about fitting in but more focused on their own interests — traits usually bunched together as ‘geekiness’.

Darth Vader.

Luke I *hhhhhh* am your father. I’m also pretty old, that’s why you like tinkering with racing craft.
Image credits Jordi Voltordu.

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 wanted to see how a father’s age influences their children’s personality. Towards this end, they looked at cognitive data from 15,000 pairs of UK twins, recorded as part of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). All in all, the older the father, the geekier their children tended to be, the team reports.

At the age of 12, the twins completed online tests that measured several of their cognitive traits, including some most people would bunch up as being ‘geeky’, such as non-verbal IQ, the strength of their focus on a subject of interest, and levels of social aloofness. Their parents were also asked to rate how much their child cares of the way their peers perceive them, and if they have any interests that take up a substantial chunk of their time. Using this data, the team calculated a ‘geek index’ for every child in the study.

Overall, children who scored higher on the index tended to have older fathers. This correlation held even after the team corrected for the family’s socioeconomic conditions, parent’s levels of education, and employment.

“Our study suggests that there may be some benefits associated with having an older father,” said Dr Magdalena Janecka from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai. “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”

Among these benefits, the team points out that the children who rated higher on the index tended to do better in school and rate higher in school exams several years after the measurements were taken, particularly for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.

The team believes that there are several factors why older fathers may geekify their kids. For example, older fathers tend to have more well-established careers and a higher socioeconomic standing than their younger counterparts — so their children are more likely to be brought up in richer environments, have better education, and a higher exposure to STEM fields.

The findings could also help understand the links between higher paternal age, ‘geeky’ characteristics, and neurological conditions. Previous research has shown that children of older fathers are at a higher risk of some adverse outcomes, including autism and schizophrenia. Although the team couldn’t measure any effect directly, they hypothesize that some genes which encode geeky characteristics overlap with some of those who promote traits associated with autism — and older fathers are more likely to pass them along.

“When the child is born only with some of those genes, they may be more likely to succeed in school,” Dr Janecka adds. “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.

The full paper “Advantageous developmental outcomes of advancing paternal age” has been published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

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