Men who become fathers before the age of 25 may be at a greater risk of dying in middle age than those who delay having children, a new Finnish study has warned.
Researchers said that men who father a child in early life have poorer health and die earlier than men who delay fatherhood, but family environment, early socioeconomic circumstances and genes are thought to explain this association.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland used a 10 per cent nationally representative sample of households drawn from the 1950 Finnish Census.
This involved more than 30,500 men born between 1940 and 1950, who became fathers by the age of 45. The dads were tracked from the age of 45 until death or age 54, using mortality data for 1985-2005.
Some 15 per cent of this sample had fathered their first child by the age of 22; 29 per cent at ages 22-24; 18 per cent when they were 25-26; 19 per cent between the ages of 27 and 29; and 19 per cent between the ages of 30 and 44.
The average age at which a man became a dad was 25-26, and men in this age bracket were used as a reference.
The study took account of factors, such as educational attainment and region of residence, which are linked to timing of first parenthood; and marital status and number of children, both of which are linked to long term health.
During the 10 year monitoring period around 1 in 20 of the dads died. The primary causes of death were ischaemic heart disease (21 per cent) and diseases related to excess alcohol (16 per cent).
Men who were dads by the time they were 22 had a 26 per cent higher risk of death in mid-life than those who had fathered their first child when they were 25 or 26.
Similarly, men who had their first child between the ages of 22 and 24 had a 14 per cent higher risk of dying in middle age.
Those who became dads between the ages of 30 and 44 had a 25 per cent lower risk of death in middle age than those whom fathered their first child at 25 or 26.
In a subsidiary sample of 1,124 siblings, brothers who had become dads by the age of 22 were 73 per cent more likely to die early than their siblings who had fathered their first child at the age of 25 or 26.
Similarly, those who entered parenthood at 22-24 were 63 per cent more likely to die in mid life.
“The findings of our study suggest that the association between young fatherhood and mid life mortality is likely to be causal,” researchers wrote in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
The researchers suggest that although having a child as a young adult is thought to be less disruptive for a man than it is for a woman, taking on the combined role of father, partner and breadwinner may cause considerable psychological and economic stress for a young man and deprive him of the ability to invest in his own wellbeing