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Paternal age and the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery: a Finnish register-based study
  1. Alice Goisis1,2,
  2. Hanna Remes3,
  3. Kieron Barclay1,2,4,
  4. Pekka Martikainen2,5,6,
  5. Mikko Myrskylä1,2,7
  1. 1 Social Policy Department, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK
  2. 2 Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany
  3. 3 Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4 Department of Sociology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
  5. 5 Population Research Unit, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  6. 6 Centre for Health Equity Studies (CHESS), Stockholm University and Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
  7. 7 Social Statistics and Centre for Research Methods, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alice Goisis, London School of Economics and Political Science, London WC2 2AE, UK; a.goisis{at}


Background Based on existing studies, there is no conclusive evidence as to whether and why paternal age matters for birth outcomes.

Methods We used Finnish population registers on 106 652 children born 1987–2000. We first document the unadjusted association between paternal age and the risk of low birth weight (LBW; <2500 g) and preterm birth (<37 weeks’ gestation). Second, we investigate whether the unadjusted association is attenuated on adjustment for child’s, maternal and parental socioeconomic characteristics. Third, by adopting a within-family design which involves comparing children born to the same father at different ages, we additionally adjust for unobserved parental characteristics shared between siblings.

Results The unadjusted results show that being born to a father aged 40+, as opposed to a father aged 30–34, is associated with an increased risk of LBW of 0.96% (95% CI 0.5% to 1.3%) and to a younger father (<25) with a 1% (95% CI 0.6% to 1.3%) increased risk. The increased risk at younger paternal ages is halved on adjustment for the child’s characteristics and fully attenuated on adjustment for child/parental characteristics. The increased risk at paternal ages 40+ is partially attenuated on adjustment for maternal characteristics (β=0.62%; 95% CI 0.13% to 1.1%). Adjustment for unobserved parental characteristics shared by siblings further attenuates the 40+ coefficient (β=0.4%; 95% CI −0.5% to −1.2%). Results for preterm delivery are similar.

Conclusions The results underscore the importance of considering paternal age as a potential risk factor for adverse birth outcomes and of expanding research on its role and the mechanisms linking it to birth outcomes.

  • child health
  • demography
  • fertility
  • registers

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  • Contributors AG and MM designed the study. AG conducted the analyses. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the findings. AG drafted the paper. All authors contributed to revising and writing the paper.

  • Funding AG, MM and KB are supported by the European Research Council Grant 336475 (Cost and Gains to Fertility Postponement). PM and HR are supported by the Academy of Finland and the Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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