A new study appearing in the journal Translational Psychiatry suggests that sons of older fathers tend to exhibit traits often associated with “geekiness,” including greater intelligence, social aloofness, and a strong focus on personal interests.
The findings shed light on the relationship between higher paternal age, autism, and characteristics typically seen in “geeks.” Although the study did not measure genetic factors directly, the researchers hypothesize that some of the genes for geekiness and for autism are overlapping, and that those genes are more likely to be present in older fathers.
“When the child is born only with some of those genes, they may be more likely to succeed in school. However, with a higher ‘dose’ of these genes, and when there are other contributing risk factors, they may end up with a higher predisposition for autism. This is supported by recent research showing that genes for autism are also linked with higher IQ,” said Dr. Magdalena Janecka from King’s College London and the Seaver Autism Center at Mount Sinai.
Previous research on children of older dads has shown that they are at greater risk for certain psychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, but the new findings suggest that these children may also have certain advantages over their peers in educational and career settings.
For the study, researchers from King’s College London andtThe Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai gathered behavioral and cognitive data from 15,000 UK-based twin pairs enrolled in the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS).
When the twins were 12 years old, they took online tests that measured “geek-like” traits, including non-verbal IQ, strong focus on the subject of interest and levels of social aloofness. Parents also reported whether their child cares about how they are perceived by their peers and if they have any interests that take up a significant amount of their time.
Then the researchers computed a “geek index” for every preteen in the study. Overall, higher geek index scores were reported in the sons of older fathers. The association remained after factoring in parents’ social/economic status, qualifications, and employment.
In addition, the “geekier” children got higher scores on school exams, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, several years after their geek index was measured.
“Our study suggests that there may be some benefits associated with having an older father. We have known for a while about the negative consequences of advanced paternal age, but now we have shown that these children may also go on to have better educational and career prospects,” said Janecka.
While the study did not directly investigate the role of environmental factors, there are a number of potential reasons why older fathers may have “geekier” sons. For instance, older dads are likely to be more established in their careers and have higher socioeconomic status than younger dads, resulting in a more enriching environment and access to better schooling.
Source: King’s College London