Children born to older parents are less likely to have externalizing behavior problems, according to a population-based cohort study that included more than 32,000 Dutch children. Researchers also found that parental age may have no effect on a child’s internalizing problems.
"Evidence points to an association between fathers' age, autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia, so we wanted to know if there is an association in the general population between parents' age and common behavior problems in children beyond the clinical diagnoses," Maria A.J. Zondervan-Zwijnenburg, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in methodology and statistics at Utrecht University, said in a news release. “With respect to common behavior problems, we found no reason for future parents to worry about a harmful effect of having a child at an older age."
The researchers analyzed both externalizing and internalizing behaviors reported among more than 32,000 children aged 10 to 12 years in four Dutch population-based cohorts. The youngest and oldest maternal age in the cohorts were 16 years and 48 years, and paternal age ranged from 17 years to 68 years.
Mothers, fathers, teachers and children reported all internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Internalizing problems included anxious and depressed behavior, as well as withdrawn and depressed behavior and somatic complaints, Zondervan-Zwijnenburg and colleagues explained. Externalizing problems included aggressive and rule-breaking behaviors.
According to the researchers, older parental age was associated with a lower rate of externalizing problems reported by the parents. Zondervan-Zwijnenburg and colleagues wrote that based on teacher reports, parental socioeconomic status may explain this relationship.
Although a link between parental age and fewer reported externalizing behaviors was reported, the researchers observed no difference in internalizing behaviors between children born to younger parents and children born to older parents.
“It's possible that some of the reasons why older parents have children with fewer problems like aggression is that older parents have more resources and higher levels of education," Dorret Boomsma, PhD, a professor of biological psychology and behavior genetics at Vrije University, Amsterdam, said in the release. "But it is important to note that the higher average educational level of older parents does not completely explain the decreased levels of externalizing problems in their children." – by Katherine Bortz
Disclosures: Infectious Diseases in Children was unable to confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.