Father’s age at conception may affect children's social skills

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Women are very often made aware of their biological fertility clock.

But new research claims that there may be genetic consequences for men who father children very early or very late in life, as paternal age at conception could influence an offspring’s future social skills.

Academics from Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai in the U.S. analysed a sample of more than 15,000 U.K.-based twins who were followed between the ages of four and 16.

The team looked for differences in the developmental patterns of social skills, as well as other behaviours, including conduct and peer problems, hyperactivity, and emotionality. They also investigated whether the effects of paternal age on development were more likely attributable to genetic or environmental factors.

Accordingly, it was found that those participants whose fathers were either very young or older at conception differed in how they acquired social skills.

"Our study suggests that social skills are a key domain affected by paternal age. What was interesting is that the development of those skills was altered in the offspring of both older as well as very young fathers," said Dr. Magdalena Janecka.

The researchers found that children born to very young and older fathers - below 25 and over 51 years of age, respectively - showed more pro-social behaviours in early development. However, by the time they reached adolescence, they lagged behind their peers with middle-aged fathers. These effects were specific to the social domain and were not observed in relation to maternal age.

The genetic analysis further revealed that development of social skills was influenced predominantly by genetics rather than environmental factors, and that those genetic effects became even more important as the paternal age increased.

But the exact reason behind this finding remains unclear.

"In extreme cases, these effects may contribute to clinical disorders," added Dr. Janecka. "Our study, however, suggests that they could also be much more subtle."

The full study has been published in Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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