CNN, The BBC, The LA Times, The Boston Globe, "The Today Show" and more are reporting "news" of a new study published Wednesday in JAMA that men have biological clocks. According to this large-scale Swedish study, children born to men aged 45 and older are more likely to have autism, ADHD, bipolar disorder and even more afflictions you'd never want for your kids. But as much as we can all get behind healthy babies (and the catchy headline this study allows), these findings don't have much real world significance.
According to the 2012 National Health Statistics Report, three-quarters of men become fathers by age 40, and the CDC puts only .29% of new fathers at 50 or older. A recently published report on fatherhood studied over 10,000 men with kids under 5, and the men included were ages 14-44. If 14-year-olds were the cut off as the low age for the study, we can only assume that 44-year-old new fathers are just rare at the high end. 45-year-old fathers of young kids must be so few and far between that researchers deemed them outliers for a national report.
This is all to say this seemingly sexy news that men should cash in on kids before they cash in their AARP subscription only actually affects a tiny, tiny minority of the population. So how is this widely reported news instead of just an asterix on a brochure at a fertility clinic? We can thank gender stereotypes for that one.
Whether or not men are actually delaying fatherhood, we assume they want to. Even though the average age U.S. men first become fathers is 25, we suppose the whole marriage and kids thing is something they'll want to put off 'til the last possible second. We imagine the only reason men might want to settle down before 45 is because they'll be punished with kids with health problems if they don't. And thus, this breaking story -- that's being reported by almost every major news outlet -- is born.
Here is the truth: men want relationships. I can tell you that as a therapist, as a serial monogamist and someone who studies research on gender. Copious amounts of research show that men in relationships are happier, mentally and physically healthier and more fulfilled. Do guys like having sex? Yes. Does that mean they'd rather be playing the field instead of having the emotional support of someone special who loves them? No.
Men in their 20s and 30s are -- for the most part - trying to have relationships. Generally speaking, they're looking for "the one," and fantasizing about being fathers some day. So this new study about post-45-year-old sperm being sub-par isn't a warning for massive amount of playboys trying to put off families until the last possible second. More likely, it's a slap in the face for 40-year-old virgin types who haven't been able to successfully lock down a relationship.
Men (and women) need relationships to thrive. And social construct or not, this means the vast majority of guys want to get married and they want to have children. To give and receive love is arguably the deepest most hardwired need humans have. And that is some news worth spreading about men's biology.
Amber Madison is a writer, practicing therapist, author of "Are All Guys Assholes?" and the executive director of PACH, an emerging think-and-do tank based at NYU. www.AmberMadisonOnline.com
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