A 40-year-old man has the same chance of fathering a child with schizophrenia as does a 40-year-old woman of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome.
Many of us are aware of the risks of Down syndrome in the children of older mothers. But who knows that the risk of schizophrenia looms as large in the children of older fathers? And why don't we know?
The number of older fathers is on the rise, as I detail in an article I've just written for Scientific American Mind. That means that the incidence of autism and schizophrenia is likely to rise.
Charles J. Epstein, past president of the college of medical genetics, said he often doesn't tell fathers because nothing can be done about it. “To put it out there every time somebody comes to you for counseling probably engenders more fear than light,” Epstein said.
Why then all the fuss about Down syndrome in the children of older women, when the risks for the children of older fathers are about the same? “You bring up Down syndrome, because you get sued if you don’t,” Epstein said.
Older fathers do have an option, despite what Epstein says: They can choose not to have children. But they can't make that decision unless they are told of the risks.