Background Recent findings suggest advanced paternal age may be associated with impaired child outcomes, in particular, neurocognitive skills. Such patterns are worrisome given relatively universal trends in advanced countries toward delayed nuptiality and fertility. But nature and nurture are both important for child outcomes, and it is important to control for both when drawing inferences about either pathway.
Methods and Findings We examined cross-sectional patterns in six developmental outcome measures among children in the U.S. Collaborative Perinatal Project (n=31,346). Many of these outcomes at 8 mo, 4 y, and 7 y of age (Bayley scales, Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale, Graham-Ernhart Block Sort Test, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Wide Range Achievement Test) are negatively correlated with paternal age when important family characteristics such as maternal education and number of siblings are not included as covariates. But controlling for family characteristics in general and mother's education in particular renders the effect of paternal age statistically insignificant for most developmental measures.
Conclusions Assortative mating produces interesting relationships between maternal and paternal characteristics that can inject spurious correlation into observational studies via omitted variable bias. Controlling for both nature and nurture reveals little residual evidence of a link between child neurocognitive outcomes and paternal age in these data. Results suggest that benefits associated with the upward trend in maternal education may offset any negative effects of advancing paternal age.