Ruben C Arslan, Kai P Willführ, Emma M Frans, Karin J Verweij, Paul-Christian Bürkner, Mikko Myrskylä, Eckart Voland, Catarina Almqvist, Brendan P Zietsch, and Lars Penke (2017)

Older fathers’ children have lower evolutionary fitness across four centuries and in four populations

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284:20171562.

Higher paternal age at offspring conception increases de novo genetic mutations. Based on evolutionary genetic theory we predicted older fathers’ children, all else equal, would be less likely to survive and reproduce, i.e. have lower fitness. In sibling control studies, we find support for negative paternal age effects on offspring survival and reproductive success across four large populations with an aggregate N > 1.4 million. Three populations were pre-industrial (1670-1850) Western populations and showed negative paternal age effects on infant survival and offspring reproductive success. In 20th-century Sweden, we found minuscule paternal age effects on survival, but found negative effects on reproductive success. Effects survived tests for key competing explanations, including maternal age and parental loss, but effects varied widely over different plausible model specifications and some competing explanations such as diminishing paternal investment and epigenetic mutations could not be tested. We can use our findings to aid in predicting the effect increasingly older parents in today’s society will have on their children’s survival and reproductive success. To the extent that we succeeded in isolating a mutation-driven effect of paternal age, our results can be understood to show that de novo mutations reduce offspring fitness across populations and time periods.