Yes, men have a biological clock -- and it's ticking

A father and his baby
A father holds his newborn baby in Cologne, Germany.
Andreas Rentz | Getty Images file

Tick, tock, tick, tock.

That's the sound of women's biological clocks counting down in pop culture. Turn on the TV, read an advice column, watch the news and you'll likely find a discussion of women's "race against time" to have children.

But what about men?

Traditionally, men have been represented as endlessly fertile, capable of siring children far into their senior years.

But Ana Swanson, a reporter at the Washington Post, writes that men have a clock too, "even if most people don't hear it ticking." Her recent article, "Why Men Should Also Worry About Waiting Too Long to Have Kids," dives into the scientific research and cultural baggage surrounding the idea of male fertility.

The increased age of fathers, Swanson notes, has been linked to an increase in the possibility of miscarriages or genetic complications. These issues don't arise as early as they do for women, but they are a reality.

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Research like this has become increasingly important as people wait longer to have children.

"There are some ways that older parents are better," Swanson said. "For example, they tend to have a little more money, they tend to be a little more educated — but reproductively, there is an issue."

Swanson joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to discuss her article. Liberty Barnes, the author of "Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine and Identity," and Alexander Pastuszak, a urologist specializing in male reproductive and sexual dysfunction, also joined the conversation.

As research reveals more about male reproductive health, the cultural idea of women being solely responsible for fertility is breaking down, Barnes noted.

"We have some very strong social ideas that reproduction is women's work; that when there's a problem with reproduction, women are responsible for it; that this is the business of women," Barnes said. "We tend to overlook the pretty critical role that men play in reproduction, and sometimes we forget that that can go wrong too."

Men who are concerned about their ability to conceive due to age can undergo basic tests, Pastuszak told one caller. "It wouldn't be unreasonable for you to have a hormonal and fertility evaluation, just to get a face-value idea of your reproductive potential."

And while some workplaces have made headlines by offering women the chance to "beat the clock" by freezing their eggs, men freezing their sperm may be a possibility too.

"As men get older, their genetic makeup is not as 'clean' as when they're younger," Pastuszak said. "There are changes in their DNA that can put their children at risk for problems. Is sperm banking necessary? No. But for some folks who want the insurance down the line, it's not unreasonable."