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Becoming a Father Later in Life – Benefits & Risks

I waited until age 43 to start having kids. And while I love being a dad, I’ve wondered about the benefits and risks of becoming a father later in life.

Here’s what I’ve figured out:

Only 3% of men over age 40 father kids. There are famous older dads such as Mick Jagger & Billy Joel, but fathering a child over age 50 has higher risks too, although older dads are more likely to have kids with high IQs. The biggest challenge, though, is being healthy enough to be in our kid’s lives as they get older.

But that’s just the beginning, so let’s keep going!

As I type this, I’m now in my mid 50’s. I have 2 tween daughters in middle school and a toddler. I know there are benefits and challenges older fathers face.

Older parents having babies is much more acceptable today than it was in my parent’s day. But I won’t lie; sometimes I’m sad.

I want to always be there for my wife and kids, and not using a walker! I want to play with them, support them and champion them.  And yet, I’m faced with the question of what life will look like in 20 years.

In this article, we’re exploring the world I and many other dads live in; what it’s like being an older father.

But we’re also looking at what that means for the spouses and kids involved too. After all, my challenges are also my wife and kid’s challenges. 

Ultimately, we’re answering the question of what it means becoming a father later in life.

What is the average age a man becomes a father?

The National Center for Health Statistics tells us that 26.3 years old is the average age to have a baby (men and women combined). That’s up from the average age of 22.7 years in 1980.

And for Dads exclusively, we too fit right in that same age bracket. Ages 20-24 are the most common ages a man fathers his first child according to the US Census Bureau. But that’s closely followed by the 25 to 29 age bracket.

For men aged 40 and over, only 3.3% of us had our first child at or after hitting that age. So in that regard, since I started having my 3 kids at age 43, I’m well in the minority.

Going back to the census report, I also see that it differs a little broken down by race.

Black men are a lot more likely to have kids at a younger age compared to White men and Asians. Hispanics dominate both the age brackets of 20-29 but also the 40-49 age groups.

Is 45 too old to be a father?

I certainly hope not!

But let’s break down exactly what that means. I had my oldest daughter when I was 43. By the time she graduates college (most likely when she’s 22), I will be 65 years old. 

If she marries at age 25 and has her first child when she is 27, that will have me becoming a grandfather at age 70. While it’s possible I’ll see my oldest grandchild through high school graduation, that’s not a guarantee.

After all, the average life expectancy for men in the US is 76 according to Statistica

But while generally speaking life expectancy in the US has grown considerably since the year I was born (1964), according to the National Center for Health Statistics, this year marks the 3rd year in a row for it to go down slightly for men.

They sited an increase in “deaths of despair” as the primary cause of the drop with drug overdoses and suicides increasing. 

But for me, the key to living to 90 and beyond is to take care of myself mentally and physically. For me, that means:

  • Not smoking
  • Alcohol in moderation
  • Regular physical activity
  • Working out a few times a week
  • Using meditation and breathwork to regular stress
  • Eating healthy

What’s it like for women having a baby with an older man?

My wife is 17 years younger than me.

That’s the reason we were able to have our 3rd daughter in 2017 when I was 53. She was only 36, so she still had plenty of time left on her biological clock.

But just because we were easily able to have a child doesn’t mean our age difference, and my being older specifically, don’t present some challenges for her.

Here are some realities women face when wanting to have a baby with an older man:

  1. Once guys hit 55, our sperm counts go down, making it harder to conceive
  2. In fact, women have a 15% lower chance of getting pregnant than if the guy was her age
  3. As I get into more below, risks of psychiatric disorders and birth defects increase
  4. Let’s face it. Being an older guy sometimes means increased issues with memory, hearing, and stamina

But beyond those technical things, there are also social challenges an age difference can mean.

Luckily for my wife and me, when we met, I assumed she was older and she assumed I was younger. So we probably both assumed we were well within 10 years of each other.

But for some younger moms with an older dad/spouse/partner, they may also be dealing with challenges like:

  • The older guy  liking different kinds of music and movies
  • Being more of a homebody
  • Less likely to want to travel since they may have already “done it all”

Of course, those are generalizations and not always true. They are certainly not true in my case. But those challenges can crop up.

And of course, those things are on top of the fact that some older dads also had kids when they were younger with a now ex-wife. So blending families or contentious exes can sometimes add to the drama.

Who are some famous older dads?

There are a lot of guys who either waited to have kids until they were older, or started again later in life. Of course, when you’re well known and wealthy, being a dad can get a whole lot easier. After all, these guys probably have nannies, housekeepers, tutors, and more. 

Here are some of the most well-known guys who know firsthand about becoming a father later in life:

1. Hugh Grant 

Hugh became a dad for the first time at age 51, with a 2nd child the following year. He has since gone on to have a total of 5 kids.

2. Mick Jagger

Now to be fair, Mick started having kids at a relatively young age of 27 in 1970.

But he’s gone on to have a total of 8 kids with 5 different women! His most recent child was born in December of 2016 when Mick was 73 years old. But that child is only slightly younger than Mick’s great-grand-daughter who was born to his grand-daughter, Assisi Jackson, in 2016.

3. Michael Douglas

Michael has been with Catherine Zeta-Jones since 1999; quite a record for Hollywood! Their first child, which was his first child (the couple has a 25 year age difference) was born in 2000. Douglas was on the verge of turning 56 when he became a dad for the first time.

4. Billy Joel

Billy has 3 kids with 2 different women. So he’s well behind Mick Jagger. His first child, Alexa Ray (let’s hope there are no echo dots in her house), was born when Joel was 36. But he went on to father Della Rose Joel at the age of 66. Remy Anne Joel was born 2 years later.

5. Steve Martin

Famous comedian and musician Steve Martin only has 1 child. He was 67 when his daughter was born in 2012.

6. Nick Nolte

Nick has been around Hollywood for decades although somewhat out of the limelight prior to The Mandalorian. While he first became a dad in 1986 at the age of 45, he then later welcomed his second child in 2007 at the age of 66.

7. Robert DeNiro

Robert has 6 kids. His oldest, Raphael, was born in 1976 when Robert was only 33 years old. But his most recent child, daughter Helen Grace, was born in 2011 when Robert was 68.

8. George Clooney

George has 2 kids, a daughter, Ella, and son, Alexander. They are twins born on June 6, 2017, when Clooney was 56.

9. Hugh Hefner

The late Hugh Hefner, the founder of the Playboy enterprise, had 4 children.

While his oldest, former Playboy CEO Christie Hefner, was born when Hugh was only 26, his youngest, Cooper, was born when Hugh was 65. Cooper’s only slightly older brother Marston, was born on Hugh’s 64th birthday. His other child David was born in 1955 and prefers to stay well out of the Playboy limelight.

What are the benefits of becoming a dad later in life?

I see Dads in their early 20’s.  I hate generalizations as everyone is different, but often these Dads are lost.

And not just about parenting. No offense, but most guys in their early 20’s just don’t know a lot about anything yet. I remember being that way and luckily I wasn’t a father then.

No; there is a certain benefit to having lived 43 years on this planet before becoming a Dad. Not because I’m so much smarter than everyone else. But because of all the mistakes I’ve made!

Mistakes are the cornerstone of knowledge.

The trick is simply making sure we learn from the mistakes and don’t make the same ones over and over.

One of my most popular posts deals with that exact subject. So check out that article if you’d like to dig in a little deeper on what I mean. Just click the link to read it on my site.

As a 43-year-old Dad I had failed a lot; at relationships, at work, as a human being. I had also failed financially. Make no mistake; there was and still is a lot I don’t know. Yet. But I know a whole lot more than my 23-year-old self did.

And that knowledge and wisdom that comes with older parents having babies can play a key role in raising happy, healthy and smart kids.

The financial impact of older parents having babies

One of the challenges that older fathers face is financial issues. At my age, life insurance is more expensive.

But because my kids are still young, it’s crucial that I carry life insurance at least until my kids (all 3) are out of the house and our retirement nest egg is strong enough so my wife no longer needs my income.

People get confused about life insurance. 

It’s not for newborns and it’s not for inheritance. It’s to give your immediate family enough money to replace your salary in the event of your death. And while they still are being sustained by your income.

Once your kids are out of the house or you have a million in retirement savings, it’s no longer necessary.

But until that point, it’s crucial that you have it, and it can be downright cruel to not have it; our families are counting on us!

Will your golden years be golden?

If Life Insurance is one of those things that confuses you or that you’ve been putting off, you MUST check out a recent article that breaks down life insurance in plain English. After all. Most people giving advice on life insurance are trying to sell you something. I’m not.

Aside from life insurance, I also have to wonder about retirement and how much I have saved. Trust me; the only thing worse than being older and having to deal with insurance and retirement is not having a plan for those things at all!

You can bet I’ve blogged about Retirement Savings too, so if you’ve been putting off or are behind on that, take a moment and check out my post on that as well.

Life insurance isn’t the only financial aspect that increases with age. Health insurance goes up too. After all, according to the CDC, the average life expectancy in the US is only 78.8 years!  If that’s true for me (which it won’t be), I’ve only got another 25 years. So you can bet those insurance companies will start charging me more!

On top of those things I also have to look at social security.

True rumors of its demise have been circulating for decades, but even if social security is solvent and going strong, it will only provide me about half of what my current income is.  I don’t know about your town, but my expenses are going up, not down!

So all in all, increased financial challenges are a huge concern for older fathers.

What are the health risks for kids of older fathers?

A recent study was done by 3 scientists in Stockholm, Sweden, along with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University.

They found that older parents having babies were “associated with increased risk of some psychiatric disorders (eg, autism, psychosis, and bipolar disorders) but decreased risk of the other indexes of morbidity . . . Compared with offspring born to not so older fathers 20 to 24 years old”.

Their study goes on to state, however, that their results have “been questioned because most studies have not rigorously ruled out plausible confounding factors”.

Pressure’s off? Not exactly.

The Nature International Journal of Science published a study that found that rates of birth defects caused by the Dad’s genes doubled every 16.5 years. In other words, a 33-year old father was twice as likely as a 16.5-year-old father to have a child with birth defects.

Granted the chances are still pretty low.

But they go on to imply that older parents having babies may be the cause of the sharp rise in autism over the past few decades as older fathers have become more common.

And it’s not just older fathers that contribute to increased health risks. Moms in their 40’s have a 30% chance of chromosome abnormalities such as Down syndrome compared with 2-3% chance of women in their 20’s.

But it’s not all bad news!

Apparently older fathers produce geekier kids (a good thing in my book)!

Nature also published another study that found that “Evidence from evolutionary and psychological research, however, suggests possible link between advanced paternal age and a phenotypic advantage.”

By “phenotypic advantage” they mean “high IQ, strong focus on the subject of interest and little concern about ‘fitting in’ .” Or to break it down, older fathers are more likely to produce geeks for kids.

I can’t imagine where my kids might get nerdy or geeky traits from (he says as he takes a sip of coffee from his Dr. Who mug where the T.A.R.D.I.S. disappears with the changing temperature of the mug)

Did I cover all you wanted to know about becoming a father later in life?

In this article, I took a deep dive into a world I know all too well; that of being an older father. We explored the benefits and downsides of becoming a father later in life.

I know my age brings me some knowledge I wouldn’t have had decades ago. And this being my 3rd child might just make me an expert!

I’ve lived, loved and screwed up. I have made all the mistakes a man can make and then some. And I’ve come out the other side of that life experience a wiser, happier, more well-balanced man, husband, and father.

I’m the same age as Brad Pitt, Trent Reznor, and Johnny Depp, so that’s not too bad either.

I’m also joining an elite group of recent older parents having babies like George Clooney, George Lucas, Mick Jagger, Steve Martin & Robert DeNiro gather. OK. Maybe I’m not joining their group, but I’m at least adjacent to it.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jeff Campbell