"If your father and grandfather were able to live and reproduce at a later age, this might predict that you yourself live in an environment that is somewhat similar -- an environment with less accidental deaths or in which men are only able to find a partner at later ages," lead author Dan T.A. Eisenberg, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., said in a statement.
Christopher W. Kuzawa, co-author of the study, an associate professor of anthropology at Northwestern, said the study, conducted in the Philippines, found children of older fathers not only inherit longer telomeres -- DNA found at the ends of chromosomes -- but the association of paternal age with offspring telomere length is cumulative across multiple generations. Shorter telomeres seem to be a cause of ill health that occurs with aging -- longer telomeres seem to promote slower aging.
"If our recent ancestors waited until later in adulthood before they reproduced it would make sense for our bodies to prepare for something similar by investing the extra resources necessary to maintain healthy functioning at more advanced ages," Kuzawa said.
The researchers said their study should not be taken as a recommendation that men reproduce at later ages, as previous research showed older fathers are more likely to pass along harmful mutations to their offspring at conception, which can lead to increased rates of miscarriage and other health issues in offspring.