Age and getting older: Addressing misconceptions about male fertility

There might not be any absolute need to hurtle into fatherhood, but research indicates that men can wait too long before starting a family.

A new study indicates that a couple’s chances of having a baby decrease as the father ages. Laura Dodge, who headed up the research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, told the Guardian newspaper of London that couples should keep the study’s findings in mind when thinking about starting a family.

“When making this decision, they should also be considering the man’s age,” said Dodge.

Complicating matters further for men who’d prefer to wait a few years, the study suggested that some women benefit when trying to conceive with younger men.

Specifically, the Harvard/Beth Israel study, reported at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology conference held in Geneva in 2017 (and subsequently published in the journal Science Daily), found that when women aged 35-40 tried to conceive with men aged 30-35, the likelihood of their having a baby was slightly more than one in two chances.

This rate increased to seven in ten chances when the man was 30 years of age or younger. Women aged 30 to 35 who had older male partners on average experienced live birth rates of 64%; the rate increased slightly to 70% when they partnered with men in their own age range.

Nick Macklon, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southampton, who did not contribute to the study, noted that the findings could give women ammunition in the battle to motivate their male partners to get moving in a family direction. He cited several studies that show women often wait to conceive because men drag their feet in supporting this decision.

“This reminds us that it takes two to tango and it’s not just down to the age of the woman,” Macklon said.

(It’s worth remembering that the Harvard/Beth Israel study comes about a year after a Danish study determined that children sired by older fathers were at a greater risk to develop autism; here’s more information about The Risk of Genetic Mutations.)

What, exactly, causes male fertility to decline as men grow older? Researchers aren’t certain, but they have zeroed in on some factors that come into play when couples are trying to conceive.

Women are born with a fixed number of eggs for life; these can rack up mutations as women age, which helps to explain why older women experience problems with fertility.

It’s a different story for men. While it’s true that the aging process impacts sperm quality, which in turn makes it more difficult to father a child as well as increasing the risk of miscarriage, Dodge suggests that aging, deteriorating sperm isn’t entirely responsible for male fertility problems.

She theorizes that even though men produce new sperm daily, mutations eventually latch onto the cells that make those. Plus, older sperm tends to be characterized by more damaged DNA. She plans to conduct further work to get to the bottom of these issues.

Harry Fisch, MD, director of the Male Reproductive Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, tells WebMD that while it’s true that “[w]omen set the baby-making agenda,” that doesn’t give men a total pass as far as conception is concerned.

“Not only are men not aware of the impact their age has on infertility, they deny it.,” says Fisch. “They walk around like they’re 18 years old.”

Worse, adds Fisch, even though men have an internal sense that something is happening as regards their own biological clocks, they can at the same time have a tendency to manifest that awareness in ways other than by showing interest in starting a family.

“Some men,” he says, “express the biological changes by buying a hot sports car.”

Legacy, on the other hand, helps you with the only life investment you’ll make. Preserve your most important assets today so that when the day comes, you’re ready. Your mate, after all, doesn’t want a “younger other” as the father of her children. Nor will they have much interest in competing with your new ride for passionate attention. They simply want the youngest, healthiest, most viable you.