The number of men over the age of 50 who become fathers has trebled in Switzerland over the past 20 years. Experts see advantages as well as disadvantages in this trend.
Whereas in 1996, 625 babies were born to men over 50, in 2016 the figure rose to 1,855, according to the Federal Statistical Officeexternal link. Over the same period, these births as a proportion of all births increased from 0.8% to 2.2%.
In addition, 22 men became fathers at 70 or older in 2016.
“Increasingly late family planning is the main reason for this development,” Felix Häberlin, president of the Swiss Society for Reproductive Medicineexternal link, told 20 Minutes newspaper on Friday. “Young women are studying for longer and more of them have jobs – they don’t feel the desire for children until later. Consequently, the age of fathers also increases.”
In 2016, the average age at which a woman gave birth was 31.8, up from 29.5 two decades earlier. The statistics show that old mothers (over 50) remain the exception, with only 33 cases in 2016.
Whereas eggs start deteriorating from the age of 40, sperm quality only starts to decrease after about 60, according to Häberlin. He added that the risk of mental problems, autism and certain hereditary diseases in the child increases slightly beyond that age.
More important, in his view, is the legal obligation of doctors to consider and ensure the wellbeing of the child. “Parents must be able to take care of the child until he or she is an adult. Becoming a father at the age of 70 would make this hard in many cases,” he said.
Still got pep
“Another factor is men in their second marriage, who are older, who have kids,” says family sociologist François Höpflinger. He believes older fathers can be positive for children, being able to offer them financial stability.
“In addition, when they are retired, they have a lot of time for their kids,” he said, adding that the father’s age doesn’t generally make much difference for children, so long as he still has enough energy.
Höpflinger nevertheless says that children with older fathers will probably be confronted at an earlier age with issues of caring and death. “That can certainly be a burden for a young person,” he said.
What is your view on older fathers? Let us know.