Guys' biological clocks are ticking too?
by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux
One of the running jokes in my favorite TV show, 30 Rock, has to do with Liz Lemon's "Big Ben-size biological clock." Liz (a professionally successful, usually single, somewhat neurotic late-30-something) is baby-crazy...in various episodes, she steals babies' shoes, accidentally walks home with a makeup artist's newborn, and picks up a (very short) guy on the street because she thinks that he's a small child and wants to ruffle his hair. Women's biological clocks are a staple of comedy - according to American culture, we're just ticking time bombs, "trolling for seed" (as Jack Donaghy puts it). Men are decidedly not - there are single men of the same age on 30 Rock, but they're mostly interested in porn. But the New York Times had a very interesting article a couple of days ago about a new study out of Australia - with the unexpected proposal that men's junk might go bad too.
We've known for a while that when the father is over the age of 40, the chances of autism skyrocket. But try throwing increased risk of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and lowered I.Q. into the mix, and you can see that even though men might be physically capable of having children later than women (and even this is questionable - older men have more trouble conceiving, just like older women), it's not always a good idea. The scientists come to a somewhat shocking conclusion - that "the optimal age for being a mother is the same as the optimal age for being a father."
This is very foreign to our cultural rhetoric. For years, women have been encouraged to have tests after the age of 35, to make sure that their child does not have Down's Syndrome. The "when" of having a baby is, for a woman, a nearly impossible scheduling challenge - too soon means no career, too late means lower odds of having a healthy baby. Liz Lemon is just one example of women in American culture: we need to beat the clock. But men - they've got all the time in the world. And so this is why women are baby-crazy and men are reluctant to settle down, why men can't commit and women need that ring immediately! But what if men were hearing that ticking just as clearly? The NYT writes:
"What if 30-year-old women started looking at 50-year-old men as damaged goods, what with their washed-up sperm, meaning those 50-year-olds might actually have to date (gasp!) women their own age? What if men, as the years passed, began to look with new eyes at Ms. Almost Right? Would men of all ages come to understand — firsthand, not just from the sidelines — the fear that the very passage of time will put your not-yet-conceived baby at risk?"
It's not healthy for any of us to think of our bodies as having "sell-by" dates. But it does recast these unfair images of modern motherhood, if the timing for fatherhood is seen as equally challenging.