May 1 (UPI) -- A new study has found paternal age at the time of conception can influence the social development of the resulting offspring over time.
Researchers at the Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City analyzed social behaviors of children from early childhood through adolescence, finding that children whose father was either very young or older at conception differed in how they gained social skills.
The study analyzed more than 15,000 twins who were followed from age 4 to 16 to assess the children's social skills in relation to their father's age at birth.
"Our study suggests that social skills are a key domain affected by paternal age," Magdalena Janecka, a fellow at the Seaver Autism Center, said in a press release. "What was interesting is that the development of those skills was altered in the offspring of both older as well as very young fathers. In extreme cases, these effects may contribute to clinical disorders. Our study, however, suggests that they could also be much more subtle."
Researchers found that children born to very young fathers below age 25 and older fathers over age 51 showed more pro-social behaviors in early development. By the time the children reached adolescence, however, they were behind their peers in social skills compared to those born to middle-aged fathers.
The study also showed that the development of social skills was influenced by genetics rather than environmental factors.
"Our results reveal several important aspects of how paternal age at conception may affect offspring," Janecka said. "We observed those effects in the general population, which suggests children born to very young or older fathers may find social situations more challenging, even if they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for autism. Further, increased importance of genetic factors observed in the offspring in older, but not very young fathers, suggests that there could be different mechanisms behind the effects at these two extremes of paternal age."
The study was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.