Babies Who Resemble Their Dads Are Healthier

Babies who look like their fathers are likely to spend more time with them and are healthier as a result, according to a new study from Binghamton University in New York published in the Journal of Health Economics.

The authors of the paper “If looks could heal: Child health and paternal investment,” note: “An extra day (per month) of time-investment by a typical visiting father enhances child health by just over 10% of a standard deviation.”

Researchers used data from the Fragile Families Child Wellbeing Study to determine how a father’s resemblance to a child affects the baby’s health. The study included 715 unmarried mothers and fathers who did not live together who had children born between 1998 and 2000.

Participants were interviewed three days after their children were born and four more times prior to the child’s first birthday. Parents were asked who the child resembled, and the health of the baby was monitored. Fifty-six percent of parents believed the child resembled the father, while 44 percent agreed the baby did not.

Researchers discovered “the average nonresident father spends about 2.5 days (per month) longer in parenting activities when the child resembles him. Consistent with several studies from evolutionary sociobiology, father-child resemblance encourages paternal time-investment, perhaps because doubtful males respond to paternity uncertainty.”

Overall, children who looked like their dads were healthier.

“The main explanation is that frequent father visits allow for greater parental time for caregiving and supervision, and for information gathering about child health and economic needs,”  study co-author Solomon Polachek, a professor of economics at Binghamton told Science Daily. “It’s been said that ‘it takes a village’ but my coauthor, Marlon Tracey, and I find that having an involved father certainly helps.”

The researchers believe nonresident fathers who spend time with their children will “reduce child health disparities and thereby secure a greater chance of future educational and career success for children in single-mother families.”

They noted that father-child interaction is important in enhancing a child’s health, “especially in fragile families.” Polachek suggested more effort should be focused on these nonresident fathers “to frequently engage their children through parenting classes, health education, and job training to enhance earnings.”

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