No Baby for Old Men?
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I turned 35 a few months ago, and since then the floodgates have opened on one sunny piece of unsolicited advice: "If you're going to have kids, you'd better hurry up," as if I didn't realize I was nearing my best-by date for both motherhood and youth.
You'd have to be living in a cave not to have heard the many hazards of being a 35-plus woman, especially if you're breedingly inclined: starting with increased trouble conceiving, (and if I manage that) of having a baby with Down's, autism, low birth weight and a plethora of other ills. There's also now almost certainty that someone will write the words "elder prima" (elderly mother) on my chart before they put it and me on the shelf.
The common wisdom about the pitfalls of 35-plus motherhood goes against what's happening in the tabloids, of course, unattainability being their bread and butter. Every time you open their URL or pages, another 40-something celeb is pregnant (often with twins) or is adopting a baby. Being an "elder" mother can carry status: not only can it suggest you have money to throw at (expensive) fertility treatments or even surrogacy, but also that you're likely someone who has put career first, another source of kudos in North America (more than, say, being a teen parent).
Crux of a double standard
But it's different for those of us without personal baby entourages in the form of nurses and nannies. And until now, it's been different for men than women. In fact, it's at the crux of the double standard when it comes to sexiness, power and age. The few people who bother to ask how old my partner is (43) tend to wave their hands at the number. "That's young for a guy," most say. It means I'm eight years behind him in my career, if you want to look at it that way, but already older than him biologically. I'm an immature "elder" with more risks.
It's not just that he and his pals are viewed as capable of getting breeding and other jobs done, they're often viewed as downright desirable due to the increased wealth and social status they accumulate as they grey. There are many famous older dads who often get props for still being sexy: David Bowie (at 53), Mick Jagger (at 57), Michael Douglas (at 58), Rod Stewart (at 60), Paul McCartney (at 61), Eric Clapton (at 59), Pierre Trudeau (72), Charlie Chaplin (at 73), Saul Bellow (at 84), Pablo Picasso (at 68), David Letterman (at 56), Larry King (at 65 and 66), Woody Allen (at 51), Warren Beatty (at 62), Dennis Quaid (50) and Jack Nicholson (at 53), to name a mere sample.
There are also famous stories about men who have fathered children into their '80s and '90s, such as Australian mine worker Les Colley, who was 92 years, 10 months when he fathered a son, Oswald, in 1992. "I never thought [my new wife] would get pregnant so easy, but she bloody well did," he told newspapers at the time."
The number of older dads generally is growing: in the U.K., the average age of fathering a child is 32, but figures from the U.K.'s Office for National Statistics show that in 2004 more than 75,000 babies were born to fathers aged 40 and over -- more than one in 10 of all children born. And according to US-based National Center for Health Statistics, in 2004 about 24 in every 1000 men aged 40 to 44 fathered a child. This is up almost 18 per cent from a decade ago.