So, how old was your dad when you were born?

In a very intriguing study just released, it turns out that the incidence of autism is positively correlated with the age of the child's father, but not the mother.  Based on a huge study in Israel, here's the heart of the findings in a nutshell:

“When fathers are in their thirties, children have about 1 1/2 times the
risk of developing autism of children of fathers in their teens and
twenties. Compared with the offspring of the youngest fathers, children
of fathers in their forties have more than five times the risk of
developing autism, and children of fathers in their fifties have more
than nine times the risk.”

When I mentioned this to my finding to my wife today, she mentioned that perhaps there is something about men who reproduce later in life, rather than a pure biological-age factor.  Or as William Saletan put it in today's “Human Nature” column:

 “Biological-clock spin: Did we mention that if you delay fatherhood, your kids are also likely to be dumber? Anti-dork spin: Maybe guys likely to have autistic kids tend not to become dads as early as other guys.”

Actually, I find this quite an intriguing hypothesis to be at least partially explanatory.  Autism is well-understood to be a “spectrum” disorder that ranges from an unfortunate full-blown case, such as my older brother, who cannot talk and has many self-injurious behaviors, to incidences so mild that they are not clinically diagnosed.  At some point, there is no bright, clear line between clinically defined autism (or Asperger's Syndrome) and a person who just has significant deficits in their social skills.  Such a person, would seem more likely to not reproduce until later in life.  Such a person with just some genetic elements of autism, but not a clearly definable case, would seem to be more likely to have offspring with autism.  Anyway, just a thought…

Mortgage Moms

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about “Mortgage Moms,” who they describe as “voters whose sense of well-being is freighted with anxiety about their families' financial squeeze.”  Most of the article is about economic anxiety, stagnation of real wages, etc.  So what does all this have to do with motherhood you may ask?  The answer is: nothing, really.  When I presented my paper at APSA last week (with my friend and co-author Laurel), we were fortunate to be on a panel with a very interesting paper entitled: “The Media and Women: Covering Women or Covering Mothers,” by Elizabeth Matto.  To quote from her abstract:

I found that the number of references to
mothers in the context of presidential elections has increased over the
course of six election cycles. I also found that the number of
references to women in the context of presidential elections has
decreased only minimally. Instead, the quality of the discussion of
women by the press has shifted notably from one focused upon their
womanhood to one focused upon the motherhood of women voters
.”  (emphasis mine)

This article is just a perfect example of the trend that Matto discusses (and is also consistent with some media content analysis Laurel and I have done).  For whatever reason, the mainstream media has just decided that it is more interesting to focus on “mothers” than women, or heck, just voters in general, even when no analytical leverage is gained in doing so.  Somehow, I doubt “mortgage moms” will really catch on, though.  Keep your eyes open for 2008.

What I learned at APSA

I was away this past weekend at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA).  So, what fascinating and groundbreaking things did I learn?  Not all that much, but here's a few things:

1) The consenus among those who study Congressional elections is the same as that of the pundits– the House will go Democratic in November.
2) Our government has taken some pretty disturbing steps in the wake of 9/11, but the “America the fascist?” panel seemed to decide that calling America fascist would be taking the criticism too far.  Then again, I'd had about enough of the panel after an extended critique of the Nazis for being “heteronormative.”
3) Oddly enough, there's actually a few people out there with PhD's in Politicial Science who consider this blog of mine worth reading (they are friends of mine– hello!– but, still they could have stopped).  Now I feel like the pressure is on to actually sound intelligent here.  Or maybe they like this blog for my musings on things such as hair swirls and hand preference
4) It pays to be friendly with publisher's representative's.  In addition to the cool pens, magnets, etc., that David always enjoys, I managed to swing a USB drive, a couple hundred bucks for my thoughts on a book I'm using, and an invitation to a free dinner.

Okay, back to groundbreaking political analysis soon. 


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