Research shows that men are now delaying fatherhood until later in their lives which has resulted in a rise in the number of older fathers. This growing trajectory of reproduction becoming a facet of ‘later in life’ for men has sparked discussions about how best to handle fertility, specifically male fertility. A Bioethicist,Dr Smith, has now proposed that a ‘national sperm bank’ be created, allowing men to store sperm at 18, thus ‘banking’ it for use at a later date. He argues this would circumnavigate some of the issues he identifies as being linked to older age paternity. Others suggest that rather than resort to the use of assistive technology to manage reproduction and fertility, men need to be further encouraged to think about fatherhood, to engage more readily with where fatherhood may fit within their life plan.
Getting men to engage more about ‘when’ in planning for fatherhood and where it may fit within their lives and careers, is a good idea, and certainly may be one way to encourage men who may delay fatherhood to think more proactively and to make informed choices. Freezing sperm may feel like a pragmatic solution, but is it more a question of science attempting to alleviate what is ultimately a social problem? The broader question of why do men (and women) feel that delaying reproduction is best for them would never be addressed by introduction of a national sperm bank.
In modern society, there is seemingly perhaps no ‘right’ or ‘good time’ for starting a family, and this may be impacting on the upward increase in age of first time fathers. A lack of flexibility in the workplace, makes it difficult for parents to juggle family and career. Whilst many people desire flexible working its offer is often limited in the British workplace. Being able to navigate a family within the constraints of work poses significant challenges to families, as does the increasing cost of childcare. Research suggests that the cost of childcare is causing poverty for British families. Compared to Denmark where the government picks up 75% of the bill for childcare, the British model sees the burden of cost directly on families, and for some its prohibitively expensive to send their child to childcare so they can work. Given the cost of childcare, the difficulty of balancing work and children, it is perhaps not surprising that men (and women) are delaying starting families.
Answers to the question of why men are becoming fathers later in their lives may be a way to develop more fruitful long term solutions for navigating issues relating to reproduction and fertility, rather than attempting to crack the issue with a scientific sledgehammer.