As I talked about in a recent post, men, just like women, need to plan the timing of their reproduction since older fatherhood comes with increased risks of adverse health and behaviour outcomes for their kids. Children born to older dads are more likely to suffer from conditions like autism, ADHD and bipolar disorder, are more likely to exhibit suicidal behaviour, get worse grades at school and become obese.
If all that’s not scary enough, it turns out that if your dad was old when you were born then you’re more likely to be challenged in the looks department too.
In research that has just been published online in the journal Human Evolution and Behavior, Susanne Huber and Martin Fieder of the University of Vienna got subjects to rate the yearbook photos of over eight thousand male and female high school graduates from a large US dataset. They found that, on average, the graduates born to older fathers were less attractive than those of younger fathers, and that held when controlling for age, sex and the age of their mothers.
Just as the health and behavioural consequences for children of older fathers may stem from an increased load of mutations in sperm, so may their appearance. The same issues don’t apply when we’re considering mothers’ ages since women are born with their full supply of eggs so there aren’t opportunities for accumulating mutation.
As Fieder told me, the study could suggest new ideas about what facial attractiveness actually means:
“For a long time scientists have wondered why attractiveness is so important to us. This finding may provide the answer,” he says, “among other reasons, because [the level of] attractiveness may signal mutations.”
And, he points out, mutations signal an increased chance of getting ill later in life.
Clearly lots of factors come into how beautiful or handsome a child grows up to be. But aspiring dads – if you want to maximise your future children’s chances of gorgeousness – better get on and father them.