Mick Jagger a dad at 72? Why not?

Story highlights

  • Ford Vox: Mick Jagger, 72, his girlfriend, 29, are reportedly having a baby. Great news for him, but older fatherhood not generally good idea
  • Vox: Kids of older dads have higher chance for host of disorders
  • Vox: Upside: Wealthy more likely to live long in better health

Ford Vox is a physician specializing in rehabilitation medicine and a journalist. He is a medical analyst for NPR station WABE-FM 90.1 in Atlanta. He writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @FordVox. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)So Mick Jagger is about to become a father again. The singer has announced that child number eight -- conceived with his 29-year-old girlfriend Melanie Hamrick -- is on the way.

Congratulations to Papa Stone -- who has been a great-grandfather since 2014. He's now 72 years young and even though he is still able to rock the free world (and give free concerts in the not-so-free world, as he did in Havana show last March), there are good reasons the rest of the world's 70-plus men should think twice about fathering children at that age.
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    We usually think about older parenting as an issue for women: It's easy to understand why they would not want to have children as they get older. A high-profile report last year calculated the risk of death during child delivery in the United States at 1 per 1,800. The risk is highest for older mothers, and that's partly why the female body at some point says, "No more" (also known as menopause).
    What's more, children of older mothers are subject to higher risks for genetic diseases. In the case of Down syndrome, that risk approaches an astounding 3% as women reach age 45. Ob/gyns will offer genetic screening to women planning a pregnancy at 35 or older, or who have other risk factors. And the ease of blood tests has many women well below 35 also getting genetic workups before or during their pregnancies.
    While Hamrick is only 29, her doctor probably offered some of this testing, if not for any risk factor of her own, because her partner, Mick, is 72.
    So what are the issues for older fathers? The so-called paternal age effect is linked to numerous genetic disorders (including Down syndrome), as well as the complicated mixture of nature and nurture that lead to a variety of other psychiatric and neurological problems. Studies demonstrate that children of older fathers are more likely to have autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and learning difficulties.
    To take autism as an example, an Israeli study concluded that men over 40 were five times more likely to have children with autism versus men under 30.
    Scientists are still theorizing about the precise genetic mechanisms at work here, but in general it's well understood that our cells have more trouble dividing without error as they age, and that includes the sperm produced in a man's testes. The cells in the testes that ultimately produce sperm, called spermatogonia, divide 23 times per year, with each division producing a new chance for error. That possibility for error is the same phenomenon that leads to many cancers.
    Beyond genetic risk factors, choosing to reproduce in your later years means you're more likely to start suffering health setbacks as your child is reaching major milestones in his or her early life. Even if you're as healthy as Mick Jagger, who's planning a big show in Vegas this fall, this is an unavoidable consideration. There's no question that the illness and death of a parent imprints in unpredictable ways on children and teenagers.
    We're all living longer and healthier, but the wealthy especially so. With access to more active and interesting lifestyles -- bringing a wide range of mentally stimulating activities, as well as great diets, personal trainers, and easy access to the full range of the world's best health care -- the rich are living especially well these days. If the general trend is to start raising our children later in life, it's not unexpected that people at the top end of the income scale may take this trend to the extreme.
    But there are still natural limits for everyone, even in 2016.
    Still, beyond facing the inevitability of a parent's frailty and death at some point, Mick Jagger's child will not want for anything. Unlike other older parents, Jagger needn't worry about providing for his children after he's gone. That's a rare situation.
    Any child of the intrepid Rolling Stone is destined to have a unique life. But for the rest of us, it's best to think twice about forgoing birth control after becoming a grandfather.