The sitcom character Urkel, played by actor Jaleel White, has become synonymous with a nerdy stereotype. The sitcom character Urkel, played by actor Jaleel White, has become synonymous with a nerdy stereotype. The sitcom character Urkel, played by actor Jaleel White, has become synonymous with a nerdy stereotype. (Photo: ABC)

Scientists discover that older fathers have nerdier sons

Researchers actually created a 'Geek Index' to measure just how nerdy the boys were.

Becoming a dad later in life can certainly have its challenges. Who wants to be over 50 and chasing toddlers around the house? Or halfway through their 70s and meeting the kid's prom date?

But men who become fathers later in life do have at least one thing going for them: their sons will be nerdier. Yep, you read that right. According to a newly released study, older fathers have geekier sons.

If you're like us, the first thing you're asking yourself is: how in the world did the researchers figure that out? Well, as it turns out, they created a Geek Index.

Here's how it works: The scientists from the United States, Israel and Britain – perhaps nerds themselves – used a large sample of more than 12,000 twins who have been part of an ongoing national study in Britain. They narrowed down that pack to 12-year-old boys and ranked them on the following criteria: (i) non-verbal intelligence, (ii) the ability to focus and (iii) social aloofness. They also gave each of the participants an IQ test.

They then discovered that the older the father, the higher the son scored on the Geek Index. The son of a 50-year-old dad, for example, scored more than 8 points higher than the son of a twenty-something.

After following the boys' growth over several years, they found that the ones who scored high on the Geek Index got better grades in school (which isn't too surprising). The students specifically achieved high marks in STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. "High attainment in the STEM subjects have been consistently shown to predict future income over and above overall school performance, with STEM degree majors earning on average more than $15 ,000 per year than non-STEM degree majors in full-time jobs," the researchers wrote.

'Nerds' like Elon Musk (left), Bill Gates (center) and Mark Zuckerberg (right) are some of the most respected people in today's society.'Nerds' like Elon Musk (left), Bill Gates (center) and Mark Zuckerberg (right) are some of the most successful people in today's society. (Photo: Courtesy photo)

Previous work by the team of scientists – which included Dr. Avi Reichenberg, an Israeli-born leading autism expert – found that kids born to older men are more at risk for medical issues like autism and schizophrenia.

Interestingly, this new study only discovered a connection between older fathers and geekier sons. An older mother didn't seem to create a nerdier son. And the age of either parent didn't seem to play a role in the geekiness of a daughter.

The BBC reports three possible explanations for the new discovery:

  • Geekier dads could be taking longer to start a family and pass on geeky traits to their children
  • Older men have a home setting (due to stable, better paid jobs giving more access to education or experience from previous children) that encourages geeky traits
  • New mutations in sperm that affect development

While the moniker of "nerd" had a negative connotation in the 1980s and '90s – see "Revenge of the Nerds," Urkel, etc. – the term has been co-opted to mean something more much positive nowadays. We live in a high-tech society where Silicon Valley smarties like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates grace magazine covers. Startup entrepreneurs are looked at with reverence. Science fiction and fantasy brands like comic book adaptations and "Game of Thrones" rule the box office and the small screen. And a TV series about Albert Einstein gets rave reviews. Conventions like Nerdcon and Comic-Con have become some of the most well-attended pop culture events in America. Indeed, for the past year, General Electric has been broadcasting a commercial that considers a world where a female scientist is treated like celebrity on a red carpet:

So delaying fatherhood might not be such a bad idea. But don't wait too long. After all, you want make sure you're still around to attend graduation when they get that Ph.D. from MIT.

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