Is It True: That Men Don’t Have A ‘Biological Clock’?

Posted by Saswati Chatterjee in Health & Life
July 14, 2017

Women in their late forties are constantly reminded that their ‘biological clock’ is ticking, like some kind of metaphorical doomsday device. It’s actually a reference to decreasing female fertility with age, culminating till they hit menopause when a woman’s monthly cycle ceases altogether and they can’t bear children.

All of these are well-known facts, but the question is: is this ‘biological clock’ restricted to women only?

For a long time, the answer to the above question was: ‘yes’. The idea was that while women would face problems trying to conceive children after a certain age (or said children might face health problems), men could go on having children merrily for as long as they wanted. A famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) example of this is Charlie Chaplin, whose wife gave birth to their youngest son when Chaplin was 73 years old.

So many of the studies around fertility have been around women’s fertility that men’s fertility remains a little-discussed topic. But new research suggests that men also aren’t free of the worry of the ticking ‘biological clock’ either. A study by Laura Dodge at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School in Boston suggested that men’s ages play a pretty major role regarding in babies, especially with respect to the age of their partners.

They found that with older men who had partners in the same age range as them, their ages had little to no impact. But for older men with partners considerably younger to them (such as a man in his 40’s with a woman below 30), the success rate of a live birth went below 50%. This is harder to tell if the woman is also of the same age as her partner, because of decreasing female fertility, but as the age difference widens, it becomes more apparent.

Significantly, it was also found that women benefited from having a younger male partner as well. For women with male partners below 30 years of age, there was an increase in chances of conceiving: “a nearly 30 percent relative improvement” to be exact. The reasons for this are still unknown as, unlike women (who are born with a limited store of ovules) researchers are not exactly sure of the reasons for decreasingly male fertility, apart from declining sperm quality.  

So yes, the matter remains that fertility is a two-way street and as it turns out, men can’t actually go on having babies for as long as they want. Ideas like this also feed into the patriarchal notion of men being allowed to wait as long as they want, while women are told to ‘hurry up and settle down’ because their ‘clock is ticking’.

Yeah, biology might have something to say about that.

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