A new study shows just how important it is for an infant’s health when a father is involved in childcare. But the reason why some dads are more involved may surprise you.
A study titled “If Looks Could Heal: Child Health And Paternal Investment,” published in the January 2018 issue of Journal of Health and Economics, examined single parent families where the baby lived with the mom and the dad lived elsewhere, but visited and provided care.
The study followed 715 families. The parents were interviewed right after the birth and again a year later; researchers focused on parents who both privately self-reported that the infant had similar facial features to the dad.
Not only did researchers find that fathers spent more time with babies who resembled them, but these dads spent two and a half days more per month with their infants than men whose babies didn’t resemble them.
The fathers’ involvement has a tangible impact on the infants’ health. Looking at the frequency of asthma attacks and the length of emergency room visits, researchers found that the babies who spent more time with their dads were healthier on their first birthday.
“Fathers are important in raising a child, and it manifests itself in the health of the child,” said Solomon Polachek, an economics professor at Binghamton University and co-author of the study.
Polachek theorized that a father who believes the baby looks like him is more certain of his paternity (even if it is subconscious) and therefore more willing to part with resources like time and money. In other words, the dads in the study may have spent more time with the lookalike babies as investments into their genetic lineage.
Of course, there are many other factors that impact an infant’s health and well-being. But what is clear is that regardless of the parents’ relationship status, it’s important for fathers to be involved in raising their children.