Parental Age and Cognitive Disability among Children in the United States

Philip N. Cohen

Sociological Science, April 4, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a8

Some risks of having children at older ages are widely documented, and the “biological clock” is a popular media concern, but the association between cognitive disability generally and both mothers’ and fathers’ age is not well known. This article assesses descriptively the relationship between children’s cognitive disability and parents’ age at birth, using a sample of 353,119 children aged five to eleven living with two married parents from the 2009-2011 American Community Survey. Cognitive disability varied by parental age categories from 1.8 percent to 5.4 percent, with overall rates of 2.2 percent. Odds of disability were much more strongly associated with mothers’ age at birth than with fathers’ age at birth, with the highest odds for children whose mothers were age 45 or higher at the time of their birth (adjusted odds ratio 2.7 relative to age 30 to 34) and the lowest for those born to mothers in their early 30s. These results demonstrate that the risk is strongly associated with the mother’s age at birth—but not the father’s. This is consistent with previous research showing that it is the mother’s health, rather than age per se, that is most important for the health of their children.

Philip N Cohen: Sociology Department, University of Maryland, College Park. E-mail:

  • Citation: Cohen, Philip N. 2014. “Parental Age and Cognitive Disability among Children in the United States.” Sociological Science 1: 102-110
  • Received: September 20, 2013
  • Accepted: December 6, 2013
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Stephen L. Morgan
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a8  

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One Reaction to Parental Age and Cognitive Disability among Children in the United States

  1. Gina Erickson April 9, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    It seems to me that your model may be plagued by a spurious variable: the relationship between parental age and recognition of and referral to treatment for cognitive disabilities in their children. While you give some recognition to the important social bases for cognitive disability diagnosis (gender of child being among the most largest), your current model essentially presumes parents of all ages (net of controls, of course) are equally likely to recognize their child’s behavior as a “mental or emotional condition” in the first place (and subsequently refer their children to treatment and diagnosis of such). In this, I’m clear how whether you would consider disability (as measured in the ASC, at least) as a primarily social or primarily physical phenomenon.