Health & Science

Does Waiting To Have Children Until Later In Life Lead To Behavior Issues In Children?

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Older parents have one less thing to worry about, according to a new study. While parents who wait until later in life to start families might have other concerns to keep in mind, negative behavior from their kids doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Children of older parents are associated with a range of increased health risks, including Down syndrome, autism, and schizophrenia. So researchers wanted to know whether parents’ age also had an effect on children’s behavioral issues. This research is extremely relevant right now since so many millennials are waiting until later in life, after establishing their careers, to have kids. According to CDC data, the U.S. birth rate is at an all-time low, and is especially low for women 35 and under. The only group showing an increase in births is in women over 35.

Researchers discovered something unexpected.

The study, which looked at a large population of 10- to 12-year-old children in the Netherlands, found no negative consequences of advanced parental age on kids’ behavior. The researchers examined both externalizing behavior problems (physical aggression, disobeying rules, etc.) and internalizing behavior problems (anxiety, depressive symptoms, and withdrawn behaviors) as reported by the children, their parents, and their teachers.

For internalizing behavior issues, the researchers found no relationship, either positive or negative, to advanced parental age. And for externalizing behaviors, they actually found that advanced parental age led to fewer behavioral problems reported.

The researchers were pleasantly surprised by the results. Lead study author Mariëlle Zondervan-Zwijnenburg revealed to Theravive, a network of licensed therapists and psychologists, “Our initial expectation was that child behavior problems would increase as parental age increased.”

There is still much to learn.

In a news release, one of the study authors, Dorret Boomsma, offered a possible partial explanation for why fewer externalizing behaviors were found in children of 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. 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.”

It will be interesting to see further research in the future that explores more reasons. But in the meantime, older parents and parents-to-be can take one thing off of their list of risk factors to worry about.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.