It's unusual for men to be on the receiving end, but scaremongering people into having children sooner isn't new
Hold on to your hats and gird your loins, ladies and gentlemen, because there is life-changing news afoot: older dads have uglier children. Yes, you read that right. Choose to breed with a man twice your age and your spawn are likely to have faces that barely even a mother could love. In fact, one anthropologist from Vienna University stated that "someone born to a father of 22 is already 5%-10% more attractive than a 40-year-old father and the difference grows with the age gap". That's science for you: brutal.
Hopefully it is obvious that my views on this study are first and foremost deeply sceptical. I can't help but imagine a methodology involving a conveyer belt of newborn bodies rolling past judges holding up placards rating their attractiveness from one to 10, while in an adjoining room down the hallway couples who waited longer to start their families are berated by incongruously good-looking scientists overly concerned with the continuing beauty of the human race.
The reporting of the results seems dystopian, exemplified by the Daily Mail's headline: "Children born to older families are more likely to be ugly … but may also live longer", which reads like one hell of a backhanded compliment. "You're hideous, but you've got longevity" definitely reaches off-the-scale levels of snark. After all, what is life except a total drag when you're fugly?
Needless to say, the experiment wasn't actually conducted via baby conveyer belt. Instead, six men and six women looked at more than 8,000 pictures of adults and rated them on an attractiveness scale. It turned out that those who had been born to older fathers were consistently rated as less attractive by their peers – although, with only 12 people doing the rating the conclusion doesn't strike me as watertight.
Women, who are usually the focus of negative publicity surrounding their gross tendency to age and their biological clocks could be excused for feeling a little smug. It is my female peers who sit down to dinner with apparently well-meaning family members only to be told by those who bred young that "the clock is ticking" and that it's "best to pop a sprog out while you've still got good equipment" (that's a direct quote). Even in an age of astronomical workloads and a loss of stigma over IVF, women of child-bearing age find it difficult to dodge such comments – especially if they are in relationships. If you're married, it's even worse: pregnancy becomes basically compulsory in the eyes of what seems like 75% of the population. A woman's fertility remains very much open for public discussion; a man's less so.
But despite a hint of schadenfreude, this news isn't great for the women attempting a gasp of breath in between intermittent clouds of angst-ridden media smog about baby making. After all, it takes two to tango, and it's only a matter of time before someone frames this latest finding as "women making bad partner choices, creating ugly Britain, failing in their patriotic duties".
Meanwhile, the reasons we might be worried about the supposed ugliness of our children (according to 12 people who presumably shared similar cultural upbringings and therefore similar conceptions of beauty) is up for fierce debate. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and when a dozen people behold beauty in a certain way it seems highly suspect to generalise that information. Fertility scaremongering isn't new (or, I might add, effective), but this week it's certainly hit a new low.
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