New research indicates that babies who look like their dads at birth are more likely to grow up healthy because fathers spend more with tiny doppelgangers than kids who look like the FedEx guy. Scientists suspect that this is because men who are given such visual reassurance of paternity are unconsciously driven to ensure that their children, the holders of their genes, reap the many developmental benefits associated with having an awesome dad.
“We find a child’s health indicators improve when the child looks like the father,” researcher Solomon Polachek, a Professor of Economics at Binghamton University, explained in a statement on her research. “The main explanation is that frequent father visits allow for greater parental time for care-giving and supervision, and for information gathering about child health and economic needs.”
Data shows that involved fathers reduce the risks of everything from aggression, to delinquency, to obesity. Research similarly suggests that infant health problems can lead to parental separation. This is all to say that the new data indicates that their are potential long-term effects to the short-term situation of being a baby that looks eerily like dad. And also that those casual remarks you made about a kid “having dad’s eyes” might have set that kid up for future health.
To get a firmer handle on how much fathers matter, Polachek and his colleagues analyzed data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing (FFCW) study, which included 715 families where infants only lived with their mothers. Babies’ resemblance to their dads was measures based on private interviews with both parents, father investment was based on mothers’ reports of financial investment, direct time spent with the child, as well as shared parental responsibilities, and children’s health was gauged by mothers’ reports of indicators (i.e. the number of doctor visits for illness since birth). Results revealed that when nonresident fathers looked like their offspring, they spent an average 2.5 more days with them per month, and children were considered healthier at their first birthdays, likely as a result.
More specifically, each extra day of time-investment decreased the probability that their kids would have reportedly poor health by two percentage points. “Fathers are important in raising a child, and it manifests itself in the health of the child,” Polachek explained.
It’s important to note that there are limitations to the self-reported findings, which did not include the fathers’ impression of how much their progeny resembled them. It was also difficult to discern if dads were less likely to spend time with children because they were in poor health based on this dataset alone, Polachek noted.
“Greater efforts could be made to encourage these fathers to frequently engage their children through parenting classes, health education, and job training to enhance earnings,” Polachek said. “It’s been said that ‘it takes a village’ but my coauthor, Marlon Tracey, and I find that having an involved father certainly helps.”