One of the quasi-facts which I often stumble upon is the idea that in 10 percent of cases paternity is misattributed. That is, the presumed father is cuckolded. I often encounter this “fact” in a biological context, where someone with an advanced degree in biology will relate how it turns out that there is a great deal of delicacy in situations of transplant matching because of this fact. When pressed on the provenance of this fact most demur. The reason people demur is that the factual basis of this assertion is very thin. In particular, very high estimates of cuckoldry come from databases of disputed paternity, which are obviously going to be a biased sample. A more thorough survey suggests that there is a wide variation in misattributed paternity across populations.
Before Birth, Dad’s ID. Nothing too surprising, if you can check for fetal abnormalities, it shouldn’t be too hard to ascertain paternity. Two issues of note in the piece. In the specific cases highlighted the author and the sources emphasized that unambiguous paternity reduced the stress of the expectant mother. But this seems like a double-edged sword. Of course that’s ultimately irrelevant, the technology and the procedure will probably become ubiquitous, because prenatal screening will become ubiquitous. Unless the analytic software is specifically designed to obscure paternity, it should simply drop out of the data as next generation genomic medical methodology attempts to phase and assess identity by descent of the in utero fetus. But the broader is the nature of parenthood itself. Rather than being legalistic or dogmatic, I think that a casuistical mode of assessment probably works best.
Finally, much of our customary law and tradition implicitly or explicitly assumes that father is at best probabilistic, while motherhood is assured. This prior condition no longer holds, so some of the laws should probably be updated. Ultimately exact knowledge of paternity is probably going to be a force for “good” rather than mischief. Last I checked paternity testing clinics catering to men who suspect they’ve been cuckolded actually only come back with a 1/3 positive result for cuckoldry. The evolutionary reasons for exhibit a “false positive bias” here are clear, but we don’t need to rely on instinctive heuristics when the truth can set us free.
Addendum: If you are a member of the cuckold-community, or, are an men’s rights activist, I’m going to delete your comment. Not interested in bizarre fantasies or anger.
We have some data that in fact older generations were more sexually promiscuous, contrary to the moral panic perpetually ascendant. As a follow up to my previous post, there is some scholarship which suggests that misattributed paternity rates have been declining. Recent decline in nonpaternity rates: a cross-temporal meta-analysis:
Nonpaternity (i.e., discrepant biological versus social fatherhood) affects many issues of interests to psychologists, including familial dynamics, interpersonal relationships, sexuality, and fertility, and therefore represents an important topic for psychological research. The advent of modern contraceptive methods, particularly the market launch of the birth-control pill in the early 1960s and its increased use ever since, should have affected rates of nonpaternity (i.e., discrepant genetic and social fatherhood). This cross-temporal meta-analysis investigated whether there has been a recent decline in nonpaternity rates in the western industrialized nations. The eligible database comprised 32 published samples unbiased towards nonpaternity for which nonoverlapping data from more than 24,000 subjects from nine (mostly Anglo-Saxon heritage) countries with primarily Caucasian populations are reported. Publication years ranged from 1932 to 1999, and estimated years of the reported nonpaternity events (i.e., the temporal occurrence of nonpaternity) ranged from 1895 to 1993. In support of the hypothesis, weighted meta-regression models showed a significant decrease (r = -.41) of log-transformed nonpaternity rates with publication years and also a decrease, albeit not significant (r = -.17), with estimated years of nonpaternity events. These results transform into an estimated absolute decline in untransformed nonpaternity rates of 0.83% and 0.91% per decade, respectively. Across studies, the mean (and median) nonpaternity rate was 3.1% (2.1%). This estimate is consistent with estimates of 2 to 3% from recent reviews on the topic that were based on fewer primary studies. This estimate also rebuts the beliefs and hearsay data widespread among both the public and researchers which contend nonpaternity rates in modern populations might be as high as about 10%.
I don’t have academic access, so I can’t say much more than that (if someone wants to email me the paper, contactgnxp -at – gmail -dot- com will work). Obviously I don’t think this is implausible on the face it; the “good old days” were often a lot less “good” than we remember (or what our elders remember and tell us).
Addendum: If you are from the cuckold enthusiast community, yes, I am aware that your perspective on whether the good old days were good may differ….
An urban myth, often asserted with a wink & a nod in some circles, is that a very high proportion of children in Western countries are not raised by their biological father, and in fact are not aware that their putative biological father is not their real biological father. The numbers I see and hear vary, but 10% is a low bound. People are generally not convinced when I point out that this would mean that nearly 30% of paternal grandfathers are not paternal grandfathers. Most of my scientist acquaintances fancy up the myth by suggesting that they received this datum from research on family groups (where you have to take into account the error introduced by paternity misattribution) or organ matching for purposes of donation.
Evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk has some informal survey data which she presents in an article in The Los Angeles Times: