Under the Hood

‘You Are Not The Father': Dads Who Unknowingly Raise Non-Biological Kids Are Actually Rare

Cuckolded Father
Cuckolded fathers are less common than we think. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

You would think there would be more people running around who don’t know their real dad, given how many times Maury Povich has uttered the phrase, “You are not the father.” In her book, The Hite Report: A National Study of Female Sexuality, sex educator Shere Hite found that around 70 percent of married women have cheated on their spouse at one point in their relationship. A new study suggests that percentage could be closer to zero.  

Researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium have finished research analyzing rates of extra-pair paternity — cases when a child has a biological father who is different from their alleged one — throughout history. The findings show that the rate of cuckolded fathers has been as low as 1 percent, even dating back to the pre-contraception era. People are part of the 3 percent of mammals who mate with one partner for life. However, cheating does still occur. These researchers challenge the notion that a lot of married women cheat for evolutionary purposes.

“There’s this myth out there that one of every 10 children has a biological father who is different from the man who raised them,” Maarten Larmuseau, lead researcher of the study, told Medical Daily. “And that’s just not true. Our research has shown that rates of extra-pair paternity are much lower globally and historically.”

Although scientific literature suggests that around 10 percent of the human population does not know who their biological fathers are, Larmuseau and his colleagues struggled to find any concrete data that either proved or disproved this estimate over time. So they used new data taken from recent studies that have examined extra-pair paternity rates in modern human populations. They also tracked data on Y chromosomes to trace paternal ancestry. Y chromosomes are passed from father to son and help paint a picture of a man’s lineage from his father’s side of the family.

The findings not only showed that extra-pair paternity cases are rare all over the world, but they also discovered that they have remained the same over a long period by combining Y-chromosomal data with records of the sample group’s ancestry. This research team conducted a similar study back in 2013. Based on data taken from people living in Flanders, Belgium, the researchers found that rates of extra-pair paternity were as low as 1 to 2 percent in this region and had remained that way for the past 400 years.

“There are certain areas of South America with higher rates of extra-pair paternity then the ones seen in Flanders, or South Africa, or Italy.” Larmuseau added. “However, areas of the world with these statistics are rare.”

Although some married women may see the advantage of cheating to have children in better physical health, the researchers believe most women don’t think it’s worth the potential costs, including spousal aggression, divorce, or a decline in parental involvement with their children. Men and women tend to handle cheating differently. Men are more likely to become jealous if their female partner has cheated sexually, while women tend to be more concerned about emotional infidelity.  

While this study examined how many women are willing to cheat to help find the best genes for their children, past research has found that a person’s genes could influence how likely they are to look for multiple partners. Evidence has shown that receptors for dopamine, also known as the happy hormone, can show how likely it is that a person will cheat. Around 50 percent of people with a long allele variant on this hormone have admitted to cheating compared to 22 percent with a short allele variant. In fact, these people have a knack for all risky behaviors, including substance abuse.

Source: Larmuseau M, et al. Cuckolded fathers rare in human populations. Trends in Ecology & Evolution . 2016.

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