Boys born to older fathers are a bunch of geeks, research into the academic and social traits of sons born to that group of men indicates.
Scientists analyzed things like intelligence and how much children responded to peer pressure to determine whether having an older father played a role in how much of a geek a kid was — part of a measure of academic success as such success influences socioeconomic status as an adult. A study in the journal Translational Psychiatry found a link between those desired traits in sons and being born to an older father.
The team did not find the same link between older fathers and daughters.
Analyzing data from a British study of 15,000 twins, researchers looked at the children for high IQs, a focus on things they were interested in and a low level of caring how they appeared to others — what they called “social aloofness.” Other people have one or more of these traits, but as the study noted they come together in the type of person normally derided as a geek.
“We used these measures to compute a ‘geek index,’ and showed it to be strongly predictive of future academic attainment, beyond the independent contribution of the individual traits,” the study said. When the child is a son, there was a correlation between the father’s advanced age and where the kids measured on the geek index, and that held no matter the socioeconomic status or careers of the parents.
Those same kids went on to score well in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, years after their geek index measurements were taken.
The researchers say their work shows being a geek, which plays a role in academic achievement, is more than half determined by genetics.
In an evolutionary sense, it works in the same way as it has through history, with the most biologically fit fathers surviving to pass on their hardy genes to children. But in today’s more advanced world, the physical fitness is replaced with “extended educational and career pursuits” that make the men viable when they are older.
It’s on the opposite side of the spectrum from situations like teen parents. “Very young parents tend to be characterized by lower education and economic disadvantage, and their offspring were shown to be at increased risk for educational underachievement, crime, substance abuse and health problems,” the study said.
Part of what spurred the research were previous studies that showed having an older father could have negative consequences, such as being at a higher risk for the developmental disorder autism and the mental illness schizophrenia.
“Our study suggests that there may be some benefits associated with having an older father,” researcher Magdalena Janecka said in a statement from King's College London. “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.”
Part of what may make an older man father a geekier son is that he is more likely to be established in his career and raise a child in “more enriched environments” with better schooling options, the university said.
The researchers also noted although autism is a developmental disorder with a separate set of traits, there could be some overlap between those traits and the ones found in geeks. That is not a completely wild connection to draw as research has indicated the same gene mutations that are associated with a higher risk for autism are also associated with higher IQs and other cognitive abilities.
“When the child is born only with some of those genes, they may be more likely to succeed in school,” Janecka said. “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.”