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Parenthood Decisions and the Ticking Biological Clock

Philip Cohen and Gneisha Dinwiddie investigate whether children born later in life are at greater risk for disabilities

In recent years more people have been starting families at a later age, raising questions about whether or not having children later in life has a negative effect on children’s health. Some conditions, such as Down Syndrome (trisomy 21), have been shown to occur more frequently in babies born to older mothers, but little is known about the possible effect of a father’s age on the health of his children. Philip Cohen and Gneisha Dinwiddie are studying the relationship between the parental age at which children are born and their risk for disabilities. They hypothesize that parents’ age and socioeconomic status may play an important role in determining children’s likelihood of suffering from cognitive disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, and Down Syndrome. The goal of the project, funded by an MPRC seed grant, is to increase understanding of the potential risks that families face as they make their fertility decisions.

This project is unique in that it uses an interdisciplinary framework to look at the biosocial processes surrounding children’s disability status. It is one of the first studies to examine age, sex, and disability in several large population data sets. Currently, not much is known about how variables such as parents' age, overall health, and socioeconomic status affect their children's health. While parents' age seems to be an important factor, it is also possible that good overall health may be enough to trump chronological age. Socioeconomic factors also play a role.

Most studies of parental age focus on the age of the mother only, but Cohen and Dinwiddie will include the ages of both parents in their analysis. This is particularly important because recent research suggests that some cognitive disabilities may result from mutations occurring in men’s sperm as they age, increasing the risk of conditions such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

Drs. Cohen and Dinwiddie hope that the results of their research will help to answer questions about the social and biological causes of cognitive disabilities in children. More research is needed in order to understand the complex causes of these disorders.

See  Philip Cohen's research profile

See Gniesha Dinwiddie's research profile

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