What do Strom Thurmond, Mick Jagger, Luciano Pavarotti and Rupert Murdoch have in common?
They all fathered children after the age of 55.
Actually, if you exclude Mick Jagger, who fathered a child merely at 55, the others all did it after the age of 65. Thurmond and Murdoch were actually over 70.
But Old New Dads are not just a trend of the rich and famous. Today in America, there is a new and growing group of men who take Celebrex to go out and toss the ball in the yard, not with their grandchildren, but with their children.
In recent years, much fuss has been made about Older Moms, and how women’s careers plus advances in fertility treatments are prompting childbearing up to, and even past, the age of 40.
But what’s missing is attention to the Dads, who are also increasingly older, and who don’t face the same biological hard-stop that kicks in for most women around age 40.
In 1980 in America, only one in 23 births was to men ages 50 or older. In 2002, that share grew to about one in 18. At the same time, the birthrate among fathers aged 40-44 increased 32 percent; and among fathers aged 45-49, it increased 21 percent. It went up almost 10 percent for Dads 50-54. A similar trend can be seen in many Western countries, including Israel, the Netherlands, the UK, and New Zealand. Having a Dad who’s 62 at his child’s college graduation is now commonplace.
While the majority of children are still being born to men aged 20-34, the proportion of dads over 40 is skyrocketing.
Part of the reason is, of course, Older Moms. As women back-burner childrearing for the sake of their careers, their mates – who still tend to be a few years older – are likely to be the ones thumbing through Fortune, rather than, say, Maxim, in the ob-gyn’s waiting room.
Another reason is divorce. It’s well-known that half of marriages end in divorce, but it’s also true that men re-marry faster, and more frequently, than women do. Sometimes called “Do-Over Dads,” more and more older men are trying their hand at fatherhood a second time around, with a younger wife. (Reflecting that trend, vasectomy reversal is up something like 40 percent since 1999. And the urologists say men seeking the procedure are nearly always in their mid-forties or older, with new wives at least eight years younger.)
The third reason is a combination of biology and success. Old New Dads can still physically father children; they have more access to younger women; and they are more likely to have the means to support children later in life.
Are Old New Dads better Dads? They take some flak for being too old for intensive toddler-care, and the very oldest may well not be around when their kids reach key milestones. But many Old New Dads say they feel “renewed,” and that they are more relaxed and more interested in family life than they were (or might have been) while scrambling early in their careers. Long work days are less appealing now. Many also say they feel wiser and more reflective with their kids; and that as they start to be more aware of their own mortality, they focus more appreciatively on their children. Indeed, some of them love it to no end. When you’re an Old New Dad, the joys of family life go on well into your sixties – and the stages of retirement and empty-nesting, which can be a downer, are shrunk, or eliminated altogether.
Old New Dads trigger huge commercial and social implications. First, they are likely to be richer dads. The baby industry should be aware of this new crop of parents eager and able to spend on their kids. And for the toddlers themselves, it means access to wealth and privilege that children born to young struggling parents may never have.
At the same time, these children are also part of an uncharted social experiment. For so long, we have studied the problems of teen pregnancy that we have neglected the opposite end of the spectrum – even though in 2001, the number of children born to fathers over 40 was practically equal to the number of children born to mothers under 19.
And while older Moms have lots of support groups, Old New Dads are a forgotten lot, left to fend for themselves with little guidance, books, or organizations serving their needs. AARP, take note – Old New Dads may join you at 50, but a growing number of them still have kids in elementary school.
In 2001, the number of children born to fathers over 40 was practically equal to the number of children born to mothers under 19. (Click on image to enlarge)
All of this has major implications for our society and its support systems. Old New Dads need to work longer, and retire later, in order to pay for college tuition and other expenses of child rearing later in life.
They need a whole new series of less physical, and more mental, activities they can do together with their kids of all ages.
Old New Dads are likely to be bigger consumers of energy drinks, and parent support books, since they will be doing a lot more carpooling, and less golf, than their Empty-Nesting peers.
The children, who are more likely to be only children or caboose kids, will need other people who can do the kinds of things younger Dads generally do, like sports and vigorous games. On the other hand, the children will have older role models – which may make them less interested in beer and more interested in wine, less interested in driving fast and more interested in driving safe, and less rebellious and more conservative in outlook.
We may also need to rethink our aging-parent support system, since many older parents will now need help before their kids are able to provide it.
Old New Dads also become a new political force. Already in the U.K., divorced Dads have become militant in seeking their parental rights, making worldwide headlines by breaking into Buckingham Palace.
Finally, if it is generally thought that voters in their twenties focus on personal opportunity, voters in their thirties and forties focus on family issues, voters in their fifties and sixties focus on college tuition and retirement, and voters over 65 focus on social security and health care, then Old New Dads completely disrupt that progression. Now they would be all about kids in their forties and fifties, college tuition in their sixties and seventies, and, well, beyond that, they’re not focused on much at all.
This essay was adapted by the authors from a chapter of their bestselling book MICROTRENDS: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes (Twelve, 2007).