Gentle readers, I call your attention to Lisa Belkin’s excellent piece in this week’s Sunday Times Magazine, provocatively tagged on the Times.com as “What If Men Had a Biological Clock Too?” This really hit home for me–as y’all may remember, once upon a time I was planning to marry a man in his late 40s but ultimately we broke up because he refused to have children with me. I’ll be 34 next month and while I’m not sweating my age too much, I’m definitely aware that fertility is finite, and what used to be a 10-15 year window of opportunity to have babies is shrinking rather quickly. And yes, I’ve definitely railed against the unfairness of biology: my window closes between 40-45, but a man’s stays open for at least 10 years beyond that, if not more.
But not so fast! New evidence from several studies shows that age is the enemy for men, too, and announces:
“…a new consensus-in-the-making: there is no fountain of youth for sperm, no “get out of aging free” card. The little swimmers, scientists are finding, one study at a time, get older and less dependable along with every other cell in the male body.
And men don’t have to be all that old to be “too old.” French researchers reported last year that the chance of a couple’s conceiving begins to fall when the man is older than 35 and falls sharply if he is older than 40. British and Swedish researchers, in turn, have calculated that the risk of schizophrenia begns to rise for those whose fathers were over 30 when their babies were born. And another Swedish study has found that the risk of bipolar disorder in children begins to increase when fathers are older than 29 and is highest if they are older than 55. British and American researchers found that babies born to men over the age of 40 have significantly greater risk of autism than do those born to men under 30. (The age of the mother, in most of these studies, showed little or no correlation.) (ed: emphasis mine, because, how often to we women get left off the hook about our age at conception? Hooray!)
I actually don’t want to say too much about the article, because Belkin hits it out of the park so many times that there’s really nothing I can add:
The push and pull between timetables and dreams, between our bodies and our babies, is at the core of many women’s worldview, which also means it is at the core of relationships between the sexes. This tension feeds the stereotype of woman as eager to settle down and men as reluctant, and it’s the crux of why we see women as “old” and men as “distinguished.”
Why yes! It does! Do go on…
If those underlying assumptions were to change, would all that follows from them change as well? A world in which each man heard his clock tick even a fraction as urgently as each woman could be a very different world indeed. All those silver-haired sex symbols, and balding sugar daddies, and average-Joe divorced guys who are on their second families because they can be while their exes are raising their first set of kids — what if all of them became, in women’s eyes, too darned old?
Um, I think that would be pretty fucking awesome. Sauce for the gander, etc.
What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age?
Well, I’m not sure that would be an ideal state of affairs–no one should be viewed as damaged goods because of their age, male or female–but I can certainly see how that would be emotionally satisfying for a lot of women. Particularly the ones who hate it when older men date younger women (and I have certainly met a few).
…choosing a father for your child according to his “sell-by date” would be perversely consistent — seen by some women as long-overdue comeuppance (hear the chortling yet at girls’ night out?) and by others (old habits die hard) as yet another thing they have to worry about when getting pregnant. (ed.: I’m sure I’d be the latter)
It will not change everything; it might not even change most things. But it would be a satisfying start if men had to pause and see age as part of their biological equation, too.
Now that would be a gender equality WIN.