Dear Asian community – It’s time to discuss the F-word
Let’s be honest my friends, many in our community will think nothing of a 45 year old man pursuing and, in some cases, successfully capturing the attention of a 22 year old woman. The lucky suitor will be applauded, receive an encouraging ‘mashallah beta’ pat on the back from ammi and be lavished with ‘atta boy’ high-fives from his cohort of aging chums.
As a voluntary matchmaker, I have met countless single Asian men in their late 30s/mid 40s who will unashamedly ask me to recommend a 25 year old woman. Somehow, this never fails to surprise me, despite it now becoming a fairly “standard” request. Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but although these older blokes have taken the trouble of acquiring a wardrobe worthy of the GQ front cover, hired a personal trainer to hone their drooping moobs and taken out shares in ‘Just for Men’, they frequently fail to bag said 20 something year old lovely of their dreams. Even the world’s most eligible silver fox George Clooney eventually married an ‘older’ woman in the form of the delectable, successful and formidably intelligent 36 year old Amal Alamuddin. Yep, the smart man chose the smart lady.
I wanted to fully understand why some older men are so obsessed with younger women. I decided to explore some psychological and biological theories and after some digging around I found that this penchant for the 20-something year old woman is not simply a case of ‘Creepy Old Man Syndrome’ but instead all down to the F-word. No, not that one. But rather, f-f-f-fertility.
Apparently, the pursuit of a younger woman is a deep seated subconscious urge that evolution has wired into the male psyche. Ladies, I apologise on their behalf because they simply can’t help themselves. Rationale though tells them that relationships should be based on love and companionship and not solely procreation. So whilst thinking with their testicles instead of their degree educated brains, they actively hunt out women who glow with the signifiers of ripe ovaries (facial symmetry and youthful bloom being significant ones) in favour of more important but less visual attributes that form the basis of a healthy marriage.
I have spoken before about the undeniable fact that Mother Nature is not a feminist and we know only too well that fertility declines dramatically after the age of 37. However, far too many men wrongly assume ‘older’ women simply can’t safely have children. So, because we women have not heard enough of our biological clocks already, please allow me to remind you all of some basic facts that you may find pleasantly surprising.
Fact 1: The probability of a 19-26 year old becoming pregnant after 2 years of sexual intercourse without using contraception is 98% and in the older age group of 35-39 year olds, the probability is 90% . Pretty good odds don’t you think?
Fact 2: The sensitive issue of Down syndrome: there is 0.07% chance that a 20 year old pregnant woman will give birth to a child with Down syndrome. This increases to 0.1% in a thirty year old woman and increases again to 1% in a 40 year old woman.Just to make it crystal clear that’s 99% chance that a 40 year old woman will NOT give birth to a child with Down syndrome.
Fact 3: The number of live births to mothers over 40 has tripled over the last 3 decades.  This is partly due to social factors such as increased participation in higher education, delayed marriage and partnership formation, establishing a career, ensuring financial stability before starting a family etc. The good news is that advances in fertility treatments now mean that some women who are unable to conceive naturally, are now able to have healthy pregnancies and babies.
Fact 4: Studies have shown that children born to women over 40 tend to be healthier and brighter than those born to younger women. 
With my medical doctor hat on, I regularly read clinical papers on the decline in female fertility. However, for those of you not acquainted with him I’d like to introduce you to the less talked about ‘Father Nature’. He’s been lurking around since the dawn of man yet no one really seems particularly interested in him. Perhaps it’s because good old Father Nature isn’t particularly pro-Men, or much of a “Menist” either. It seems that some men wander the world blighted with a misplaced sense of Peter Pan-ism when it comes to their own ability to ‘get the ball in the net’. Many blithely consider themselves untouched by the aging process and are, for the most part, completely oblivious to the effect that Father Nature has on their sperm production. So ladies, let me arm you with some facts so that next time a man decides to come along and throw the F-word at you, grab it by the balls (pun fully intended) and kick it right back!
Fact 1: 30% of all cases of infertility in the UK are down to ‘male factor’ problems and a further 25% are completely ‘unexplained’ (no identified male or female cause).
Fact 2: The volume, motility (ability to move toward its destination, an awaiting egg), and structure of sperm all decline with age. 
Fact 3: The older the male partner, the more likely a pregnant woman is to miscarry regardless of how young or healthy she is. 
Fact 4: Children born to older men are more likely to have autism (x6 in men >40 years old compared to men <30 years according to one study) , schizophrenia  and bipolar disorder. 
Fact 5: The incidence of Down syndrome is also influenced by father’s age and not exclusively related to maternal age. 
Fact 6: With regards to sperm donation: current professional guidelines state that sperm should not be taken from men aged 41 years and over .
So, there you have it. The spousal search is full of enough complexities as it is and women have definitely drawn the short straw when it comes to cultural prejudices. My previous letter was urging younger women to try a little harder when searching for ‘the one’, but that’s not to say women in their 30s should be shunned. Despite it being 2015, there is huge stigma attached to being a single Asian woman in her 30s yet the same aspersions do not apply to men. A woman is ‘blamed’ for being too independent, too focussed on her career, too fussy and most of all – too sub-fertile!
On the other hand, older men are praised for their professional successes, maturity and financial independence. Factors which place them pretty close to the top of the rishta ladder. Yet no one dares question THEIR fertility.
Men, most of you are intelligent and progressive thinkers. Educate yourselves and those around you. Read these facts aloud (ideally within ear shot of your mum), assimilate them so that you are as familiar with a prospective female’s fertility as well as your own. Only then can we put an end to this archaic mentality that continues to fuel this ‘ageist’ fire.
Ladies, in light of these fertility facts perhaps it’s time to shift the cultural stigma by and focussing your search on a younger millennial man! We all know too well that fertility declines with age but rest assured your ‘biological clock’ is not about to strike 12 just because you’ve finished blowing out the candles on your 33rd birthday cake!
Voluntary Matchmaker and GP
- https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg156/resources/guidance-fertility-pdf accessed on 9th Sept 2015.
- http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/screening-amniocentesis-downs-syndrome.aspx#closeaccessed on 14th Sept 2015.
- http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/birth-summary-tables–england-and-wales/2013/stb-births-in-england-and-wales-2013.html#tab-Live-Births-by-Age-of-Motheraccessed on 14th Sept 2015.
- BMJ. 2012 Aug 21;345:e5116. The health and development of children born to older mothers in the United Kingdom: observational study using longitudinal cohort data. Sutcliffe AG et al
- https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg156/resources/guidance-fertility-pdf Accessed on 9th Sept 2015
- Hum Reprod Update. 2004 Jul-Aug;10(4):327-39. Epub 2004 Jun 10. Reproductive functions of the ageing male. Kühnert B1, Nieschlag E.
- Obstet Gynecol. 2006 Aug;108(2):369-77. Paternal age and spontaneous abortion. Kleinhaus K et al
- Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Sep;63(9):1026-32. Advancing paternal age and autism. Reichenberg A et al
- Schizophr Res. 2010 Feb;116(2-3):191-5. Epub 2009 Nov 17. Later paternal age and sex differences in schizophrenia symptoms.
- Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 Sep;65(9):1034-40. Advancing paternal age and bipolar disorder.Frans EM1,
- J Urol. 2003 Jun;169(6):2275-8. The influence of paternal age on down syndrome. Fisch H et al
- http://www.hfea.gov.uk/sperm-donation-eligibility.html, accessed on 10th Sept 2015.
Dr Farah Ahmed is a London based GP and mum of two boys. She is a Global Ambassador for ‘Mothers 2 Mothers’, a charity that trains and employs Mentor Mothers to provide essential health education and psychosocial support to other HIV-positive mothers, on how they can protect their babies from HIV infection. Farah enjoys running, writing health articles and matchmaking in her spare time.