• autism;
  • maternal age;
  • paternal age;
  • effect measure modification;
  • attributable risk;
  • advanced maternal age;
  • advanced paternal age;
  • interaction


Reports on autism and parental age have yielded conflicting results on whether mothers, fathers, or both, contribute to increased risk. We analyzed restricted strata of parental age in a 10-year California birth cohort to determine the independent or dependent effect from each parent. Autism cases from California Department of Developmental Services records were linked to State birth files (1990–1999). Only singleton births with complete data on parental age and education were included (n=4,947,935, cases=12,159). In multivariate logistic regression models, advancing maternal age increased risk for autism monotonically regardless of the paternal age. Compared with mothers 25–29 years of age, the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) for mothers 40+ years was 1.51 (95% CI: 1.35–1.70), or compared with mothers <25 years of age, aOR=1.77 (95% CI, 1.56–2.00). In contrast, autism risk was associated with advancing paternal age primarily among mothers <30: aOR=1.59 (95% CI, 1.37–1.85) comparing fathers 40+ vs. 25–29 years of age. However, among mothers >30, the aOR was 1.13 (95% CI, 1.01–1.27) for fathers 40+ vs. 25–29 years of age, almost identical to the aOR for fathers <25 years. Based on the first examination of heterogeneity in parental age effects, it appears that women's risk for delivering a child who develops autism increases throughout their reproductive years whereas father's age confers increased risk for autism when mothers are <30, but has little effect when mothers are past age 30. We also calculated that the recent trend towards delayed childbearing contributed approximately a 4.6% increase in autism diagnoses in California over the decade.