Older men are fathering a generation of successful geeks, new research has found

Here seen in his late 40s, Belgium’s crown prince might pass on some geeky traits.
Here seen in his late 40s, Belgium’s crown prince might pass on some geeky traits.
Image: Reuters/Royal Palace
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Science has found some problems with becoming a dad in later life: A body of well-publicized research has linked increased paternal age to autism and other conditions in kids. But now new research suggests that older fathers also tend to pass on to their children a genuinely useful trait for a number of today’s most prestigious careers: geekiness.

Researchers from Kings College in London set out to measure traits in children that they hypothesized could be useful for future socioeconomic success. They identified three: High intelligence, an ability to focus closely on specific tasks, and a lack of concern with “fitting in” socially. They called the collection of measures for those traits the “geek index.”

Sons with older fathers scored higher on the index. The kids of fathers aged under 25 had an average score of 39.6. That rose with every five extra years of paternal age, to 46.6 for the kids of fathers over 50. The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

The study used data from a 7,781 British twins, which included non-verbal IQ and parental reports of ability to focus on specific subjects and “social aloofness.” All measures were carried out at the age of 12, though researchers also looked separately at educational attainment at age 16 and which academic subjects the children chose to pursue. ”Geekier” children did better in school exams taken at the age of 16, particularly in STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A difference was still present when the researchers controlled for men’s jobs, education, and socioeconomic status. The question of why older fathers might have sons with geekier traits isn’t answered by this research, but one reason could be that geekier men tend to wait longer to have kids.

Interestingly, mothers’ ages didn’t have any discernible effect, and the daughters of older fathers didn’t display significantly higher geek index scores. It’s not clear why girls wouldn’t be affected, but its possible that the index doesn’t measure the right things to catch girls’ geekiness. “They may be geeky in a different way to boys,” lead researcher Magdalena Janecka told the Guardian.

The research doesn’t break out girls’ or boys’ scores for the individual elements of the “geek index,” like IQ. To make sure the results weren’t skewed by the presence of autism, the researchers eliminated kids with a confirmed autism diagnosis.

Previous work by the same scientists, and others, has found a higher risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, in the children of older fathers. The researchers said that to their knowledge this was the first study that had found a positive link between older fatherhood and potential success.