Recent cytogenetic evidence has shown that trisomy 21 can arise, perhaps even in substantial proportion, from paternal nondisjunction. The statistical association between Down syndrome incidence and maternal age, paternal age and birth order has been studied in a sample of over 4000 cases. The size of this sample made it possible to control for the effect of maternal age by single years of age during the search for a paternal age effect and vice versa, and the importance of such stringent control is emphasized.

The maternal age association was confirmed with an extremely high degree of statistical significance while no independent effect of paternal age was found; indeed, the rates at paternal ages over 45 years appear to be nearly constant. After adjusting for the effects of parental age, a significant inverse association of birth order with incidence was noted. It also appears that the incidence among very young mothers may be high: for maternal ages 15 years and less the rates seem to be equivalent to those found at 30 or 35 years. In order to help answer the question of whether the maternal age association is the result of increasing rates of nondisjunction or of some other mechanism (for example, an age related defect in a spontaneous abortion screening mechanism), the proportion of cases due to maternal and paternal nondisjunction at different parental ages must be determined.