Discussion paper

DP15836 Parental Age and Birth Defects: A Sibling Study

Higher parental age at childbearing has generated much attention as a potential risk factor for birth disorders; however, previous research findings are mixed. Existing studies have exploited variation in parental age across families, which is problematic because families differ not only in parental age but also in genetic and environmental factors. To isolate the effects of parental age, holding many genetic and environmental factors constant, we exploit the variation in parental age within families and compare outcomes for full siblings. The study data were retrieved from the Medical Birth Registry of Norway, which covers the entire population of births in Norway over an extended period (totaling 1.2 million births). Using variation in parental age when siblings were born, we find large and convex effects of increased parental age on the increased risk of birth disorders. To facilitate comparison with the existing literature, we also estimate the effects of parental age using variation in parental age across families and find that the effects are substantially weaker. We conclude that the existing literature may have underestimated the negative effects of parental aging on adverse offspring outcomes.


Hvide, H, J Johnsen and K Salvanes (2021), ‘DP15836 Parental Age and Birth Defects: A Sibling Study‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 15836. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp15836