“Sveta, would you have a baby with me? I’m past thirty-five, and it's high time to have kids.”
I was shocked to hear this and a bit flattered, too. The proposal was popped by a male of the type Sex in the City characters would refer to as a “toxic bachelor” (chronically commitment phobic and a serial womanizer). The conversation took place about six years ago, when I was in my late twenties. And even though my biological clock had already started ticking at the time, I politely declined. I had been on just a few dates with that control-freaky Moscow businessman and I wasn't ready to go for his tempting offer.
Still, I was intrigued. This was the first time in my life when I met a guy being so open about his own biological clock issues. Granted, I live in a culture that still imposes strong social pressure to procreate as early as possible. But like nearly everywhere else, in Russia the toll mainly falls on women.
Not so much any more, it seems. Some rather sensational scientific findings came out a couple weeks ago, offering evidence that men should also worry about their age when considering having children. Scientists from an Icelandic firm Decode Genetics reported that older guys are several times more likely to father children with conditions such as autism and schizophrenia. It linked the last decades' surge in autism cases to the trend to forgo fatherhood until later. The risk would rise dramatically after the potential dad had hit forty, the researchers said. The women's age in regards to these particular disorders didn't matter that much, the study found. Previous findings of sorts confirmed that male fertility also starts to drop after the age of forty although at a different pace than for females.
This report stirred a huge wave of debate worldwide. “...We shouldn't be alone. We resent being asked by older relatives and well-meaning co-workers if we're planning for kids yet, while our brothers and uncles and boyfriends are blissfully unquestioned,” wrote journalist Ann Friedman in a recent New York magazine article titled “Tick-Tock, the Male Biological Clock.”
Experts began to speculate whether the new data could urge men to rethink their reproductive behavior - say, making them include fertility tests in routine checkups or freeze their sperm while still young. Or simply get themselves together and not delay fatherhood till they join the over 40 crowd.
But it turns out that the troubling scientific data is not even necessary to get guys to listen to their biological clock – many do it anyway. I've recently talked to a few childless guys in their mid-thirties about it (in Russia, the average age that men become fathers is also on the rise, at least in the big cities). Most said they've felt the pressure to hurry up having kids for a long time already – both peer and social one. Some confessed to sensing a pure biological call once in a while - “that small voice coming from a caveman whispering in your ear that you shouldn't wait too long with this,” as one 31-old who's going to become a father soon told me.
Others said they worried they wouldn't be able to be “proper dads” if the age gap with the offspring were too large – a case which is especially strong in a country like Russia where the average life expectancy for men is only 64 years. “If I manage to have a kid in the next few years, I'll be in my fifties when he or she is a teenager. What kind of frail father figure am I going to be?” lamented a 34-year-old friend. “I was at a beach hotel recently where there were so many parents with small children and realized I really wanted one too, and soon,” stated another 34-year-old guy.
“It's too easy to say, ‘worry about it when I am 50,’” wrote Russell Kane, a famed British writer and comedian, in his essay “Hear that? It's My Boyological Clock Ticking!” published in the latest issue of the UK Glamour magazine.
“But get past 25, and your friends start having babies. Hit 35, and there's a chance you'll be the only one left without them. (...) And once you're gripped by the idea that time is running out, you start to man up. And panic. I am panicking.”
Genetic studies aside, I believe it's only fair if men were not excluded from the whole “biological clock” conversation. Perhaps it could indeed urge guys to mature a bit faster and take more responsibility. Lately, there has been a stream of box office Hollywood hits featuring women (mainly ambitious career types) with their biological clocks racing so fast that they had to take immediate action. Jennifer Aniston's character in The Switch (2010) found a handsome sperm donor and Jennifer Lopez' one in the Back-Up Plan (2010) opted to conceive through artificial insemination.
Imagine what a hit it could be if a hip comedy comes out with a guy struggling to find similar (or different!) ways to become a dad?
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.