Gad Saad Ph.D.

Homo Consumericus

Who’s Your Daddy? Global Nonpaternity Rates.

Am I Your Dad? Bring on the DNA Paternity Test!

Posted Nov 03, 2009


The threat of being cuckolded is one of the most evolutionarily important threats faced by men especially in light of the fact that humans are a bi-parental species (i.e., children require great parental care from both parents).  Numerous sex differences in sexual behavior have been linked to paternity uncertainty, as such it is perhaps appropriate to ask what the prevalence of cuckoldry actually is.  Given the recent advances in DNA testing, we can now establish the paternity of an offspring, and accordingly determine some factors that might affect cuckoldry rates in different contexts.  Incidentally, DNA testing has led scientists to revise their existing knowledge of the sexual mores of many species, some of which had been thought of as perfect models of monogamy!

Kermyt G. Anderson published a paper in Current Anthropology wherein he looked at the link between nonpaternity rates and paternal confidence.  In other words, are fathers who are less certain of their paternity more likely to have been cuckolded?  For example, men who commission a DNA paternity test are typically displaying greater paternal uncertainty (as compared to say men who participate in scientific studies wherein nonpaternity rates are calculated for a given sample).  The standard nonpaternity rate that is most commonly mentioned across cultural settings is 10%.  This is quite extraordinary in that it is difficult to imagine that 1 out of every 10 children is sired by someone other than the man who is recognized as the father.

Dr. Anderson gathered nonpaternity rates from 67 published sources, with a broad spectrum of countries covered.  Prior to reading on, any guesses as to the nonpaternity rates of men who had high paternity confidence versus their low confidence counterparts?  Here are the nonpaternity rates for the two groups:

                                      US & Canada    Europe       Elsewhere           

High paternity confidence         1.9               1.6             2.9

Low paternity confidence         29.4              29.8           30.5

There you have it.  Note that for each of the two groups of men, the rates are roughly the same around the various global regions.  The bottom line is as follows:  If you commission a DNA paternity test, you have roughly a one-third chance of the child not being yours.  On the other hand, if you are confident that your wife has not had any extramarital dalliances then the probability of your having been cuckolded is very low (but still far from negligible).

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