Aging men have long attempted to ward off the supposed decline of their manliness by dating younger women. Having a younger, tauter, and glossier-haired mate may not actually make them younger, but it’s enough to convince some men that they are immune to the many undesirable side effects of growing older. Others, however, need more. Not content with merely partnering up with someone a half, or a third, their age, these guys go the extra distance and have children with them.
Mick Jagger is the latest in a long list of rich and famous men who have children with much younger women. On December 8, the 73-year-old great-grandfather and his 30-year-old girlfriend, Melanie Hamrick, welcomed a baby boy—Jagger’s eighth. According to sources, Jagger has promised to “provide full support for Hamrick and the baby without formalizing their relationship, with the couple intending to live apart.” (One explanation for this arrangement can be found in the Daily Mail, who claim that Jagger has already moved on from Hamrick with Masha Rudenko, a 27-year-old model.)
This news has been met with a predictable mix of excitement, and even praise for “fertility god”Jagger, along with some necessary critique. The Independent’s Charlotte Gill notes: “The rise of older fathers is the perfect example of behavioural economics in action; rarely do these chaps consider the long-term consequences of having a baby in old age. What impact it will have on their life, their partners, and their offspring.” And the Telegraph’s Judith Woods points out “there is something reckless, if not feckless about fathering a child he almost certainly won’t see into adulthood.” Lest you think Jagger’s critics were all women embittered by living in a world in which May-December relationships remain a source of social and cultural capital for men, the news was also the subject of a disapproving tweet from British journalist Tony Parsons. “Deeply disturbing that Mick Jagger, 73, has had a baby with Melanie Hamrick, 29. How can this possibly work? She's far too old for him,” he tweeted.
Worrying about whether or not it is the right time to have a child has long been the near-exclusive domain of women, who have to simultaneously consider the biological, emotional, and cultural implications behind the decision. Indeed, much of this was a result of menopause, which creates a hard deadline for procreation. Men, on the other hand, keep creating gametes through old age, which makes it possible for them to keep having children even as they near triple digits. But, as some of the conversation surrounding Jagger makes clear, what’s possible isn’t necessarily best for their children.
To begin with the obvious: The older a father is, the younger his child will be when he dies. This isn’t a moral judgement, just a biological fact. More science: While the AARP set keeps making sperm, that sperm tends to be of lesser quality than what men make during the first few decades following puberty. As Judith Shulevitz explained in her 2012 New York Times’ op-ed, “Why Fathers Really Matter,” there is now evidence that “children of older fathers show more signs of schizophrenia, autism and bipolar disorder than children of younger ones.” Dolores Malaspina, a professor of psychiatry at New York University who researches the connection between older fathers and schizophrenia, told Shulevitz that the realization that the age and fitness of dads has an effect on their children is a “paradigm shift.”
We’re also witnessing a paradigm shift in terms what kind of emotional and practical responsibilities fatherhood should entail. In an essay published in the Telegraph around the time when Jagger and Hamrick’s news broke, Rachel Ragg called the decision to have a child with an older man a “Bad Idea.” At the age of 31, Ragg started a family with a man nearly twice as old and eventually came to regret it. She outlines the many obstacles, including her husband’s different attitudes towards parenting, as well as his lack of endurance and declining health. But what bothered her most was his impatience. As the years passed, Ragg found herself less and less in a co-parenting relationship and more and more in one in which she had to play “peacekeeper” between her children and their father.
In another generation, one not too far in the past, Ragg might not have seen this extra emotional labor as noteworthy or burdensome. But today’s moms expect more from dads, and many dads want to give it. Jagger’s wealth will certainly allow him to outsource much of the emotional and physical demands of parenthood, an arrangement Hamrick might be perfectly fine with. Either way, it’s not one we need to celebrate.