LET the baton of blame pass to the next runner.
On Wednesday, various news organizations, including The New York Times on its home page, reported findings of a high-profile study in the journal Nature. There was convincing evidence, the study concluded, that — in a fraction of cases — increased mutations found in the sperm of older men meant that they were more likely than their younger counterparts to father children with autism or schizophrenia.
Reaction was immediate. More than 500 commenters weighed in at NYTimes.com. Blogs from SheKnows.com to Time’s Healthland ran with the news. Some sites got accusative: “Are Older Fathers Causing Autism in Their Kids?” demanded the Dadding blog at Babble.com.
The news reflected widespread interest in the confusing causes of this still-unexplained condition. But it also produced a stream of headlines like this one on Jezebel.com: “Hooray for the Male Biological Clock!” And female news anchors like CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield cheered the report because, as she put it: “I had my babies at 38 and 39, and I was terrified. Honey, you’re in the conversation now.”
Traditionally, the question of a man’s age has largely been absent from discussions of complications from pregnancy, while a woman’s age has been connected with an increased risk of Down syndrome, genetic disorders and even autism.
But if men start worrying about their biological clocks even 10 percent as much as women do, commenters seemed to suggest, that would signal a notable social shift — one that’s in line with a broader gender shift we’re seeing. Far more men are feeling anxious about worries (work-life balance, pressure to look attractive, even whether they’re good cooks) that used to weigh more heavily on women. We used to think the gender revolution meant that women would become more like men. Has it turned out the real shift is that men are becoming more like women?