How many men are unknowlingly raising another man’s child?

March 22, 2008 | By | 10 Replies More

I’ve sometimes wondered this, and this article in Discover Magazine presents the answer.  Four percent of men are raising another man’s child:

From the clinics to the courts, routine DNA tests uncover genetic identities—and even family secrets. British public-health researchers examined nearly 50 years of medical data from around the world and came to a startling conclusion: One in 25 men unwittingly raises another man’s child.

The researchers found evidence of mismatched paternity in each of 14 countries studied—from the United States to South Africa. Few socioeconomic groups seem immune, but the probability of parental discrepancy seems higher among unmarried couples, the poor, and women under 35 (who are more likely to have more than one sexual partner).

4% might not seem like a large number, but every big classroom probably has a student who is being raised by a man who falsely believes that child to be his child. 

It’s hard to know what to do with such numbers.   For instance, I am the father of two adopted girls.  To me, the fact that I am not their biological father is of no importance whatsoever when evaluating my relationship with them.   Then again, that’s how my wife and I planned it.   There weren’t any surprises sprung on us.

I would fear for those children involved, were it to become known to the man who is raising them and loves them that he is not there biological father, where he currently believes that he is.   I would hope that that relelationship wouldn’t change anything at all between the father and the children, but it would be naive to expect this.  

How important is it to people that they are raising children who are their biological children?  Just consider the vast amounts of money many couples spend on extraordinary medical treatment so that they can have their “own” children.

I understand that impulse, but it is clear that the great majority of our genome is exactly the same as that of every other person on Earth.   Rather than worrying about whose child is whose, it would be far healthier to acknowledge that we are all related to every child on the planet–they are all our children. 


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Category: Health, Sex, Statistics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (10)

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  1. Skblllzzzz says:

    It only goes to show that we are clearly part of the animal kingdom, where this is the way things work. Nothing out of the ordinary has been found out here (which is good to know).

    Men who can love childen and invest a major part of their lives in their upbringing *only* when they are convinced they are the biological fathers, do not distinguish themselves from lower vertebrates. Lions somehow spring to mind here. In my opinion lions are simply programmed to behave in their particular way and I have not yet heard of examples of male lions accepting anything other than their own offspring.

    Man however has the capabilities at his disposal to negate this kind of hereditary programming and become a better man. And so he should.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    This reminds me of those genetic studies done in the last decade to confirm the breeding habits of instinctively monogamous species, like swans. Any given pair does mate for life. But the chicks of any given male parent have diverse genetic fathers.

    And that's for species that are rigidly monogamous, unlike our own.

  3. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    There is another angle to be considered. That of a child who finds the man he or she thought was his or her father is no aware that he is not.

    Some children may feel fear of rejection, betrayal by the real biological dad, or if they are in a rebelious age, use it as an excuse for disobedience.

  4. texas dad says:

    My 17 yr old is not mine. I found out when he was 10. My ex-wife deceived me.

    After we divorced when he was 8, I had a DNA test done. I told my Ex who always denied having an affair, always denied knowing she had another mans child and still will tell me she didn't know. The truth is "She Knew " She told her EX BF about the other man before she gave birth. She made me believe that it was mine.

    She ruined our family forever. She wanted to tell my son when he was 10 that I wasn't his bio father. I had to have the courts shut her up but when he turns 18 I am afraid she is going to tell him. I love him and nothing is going to change that.

    I hope when he ever does find out that he will have respect and love me more

    for not wanting to change anything between us.

  5. I sometimes wonder if someone who stops loving his child, because he finds out that it's not his own, has ever really loved it. Oh well, you could also wonder if all the moms and dads who go away and leave their family are able to love at all.

  6. By the way, I think texas dad is great.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    I wonder how many situations occur similar to that of Texas Dad. And I wonder how badly (or well) it turns out when there is full disclosure versus "Wait until he grows up before I tell him." I'm certain that there are no easy answers.

    This issue reminds me of how many adoptions were handled in years past. Many of the adoptive parents never told their children that they were adopted. Those parents sometimes felt ashamed of the situation, perhaps belittled by their ability to have bio children.

    I am an adoptive parent. My wife and I adopted two girls from China. My daughters look a bit different than I do, which is what I expected. Before adopting, I asked many parents how important it was that their bio children were biologically theirs. Most of them said that it was a significant part of what it meant to be a parent. This concerned me, of course. Then I talked with the parents of two families who had both bio children and adopted children. I asked whether they felt any stronger bond with the bio children than the adopted children. They both said absolutely not. They both said that as soon as you hold that baby in your arms, it is your baby 100%.

    The parents of one of those two families had no indication that they couldn't have bio children. Nonetheless, they went out and adopted their first child because "there were children out there who needed homes." Simple as that. A few years later, they got pregnant.

    As an adoptive parent, I often notice other adoptive families. I know that this is anecdotal, but I truly can't see that adoptive parents are any less attached to their children. If anything, they sometimes seem to be more attached. But my observations are certainly confounded by age. The parents of adopted children (who my children's classmates/friends/acquaintances ) tend to be older than the parents of my children's acquaintances who are not adopted.

    Bottom line: I don't believe that a biological connection is necessary for a wonderful parent-child relationship. Or perhaps I shoud rephrase: All humans are highly related to each other (we share more than 99% of our genome with every other human on the planet). This inevitably close relationship is apparently an ample basis for a close and loving parent-child relationship.

    Therefore, the news that one's purported bio child is not actually one's bio child, though such news might be earth-shaking, need not damage an established relationship between such a child and the "unrelated" parent.

    Texas Dad: Thank you for writing to share your experiences. I wish you the best in working things out.

  8. Erika Price says:

    I've long considered it absurd and selfish for wannabe-parents to spend years and huge masses of money trying to conceive, when they could instead take home a child that already exists. I wonder about the underlying appeal of having a bio child, I wonder what the principal appeal of it is. Is it a biological instinct? Then how do adoptive parents get over it? Is it fear of social rejection from having a child that doesn't "match" yourself? I think this is definitely a factor, because I've heard parents say an adopted child "wouldn't know who s/he is" growing up in a non-bio home. I've also heard parents claim that "there's just something special" about having "your own" child. Or that "it's the greatest possible act of love" for two parents to create "their own" child.

    These all seem like cop-outs to me. But why, then, can't these people bring themselves to love a child that looks a little different?

  9. Erich Vieth says:

    Erika: I suspect that at least some adoptive parents adopt from Russia (rather than China, Vietnam, India or Africa, for example) because it's less obvious that the child (assuming that the parents are caucasian) isn't "theirs."

    I personally know many dozens of adoptive families. It is clear to me (though I admit this is anecdotal) that adoptive parents don't feel any "distance" from their children based on perceived lack of biological relatedness. It's really odd, isn't it? No problem for adoptive families, but God forbid if a hospital accidentally swaps babies. Then it's a huge problem (and I would be upset too, I admit).

  10. Mike says:

    I love my wife and I love her baby from another man. She lied and said it was mine so I married her. Later when she got her due date there was no way the baby was mine. I have for 27 years asked her for the babies name but she swears she dont know. We have had two babies together and hers has put me through more pain and suffering and all I ever wanted was the name of the father. I have a first name but you cant get far with that. Again, I love my wife and 3 babies

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