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11 October 2004
Paternity Testing A "Guy Thing"
by George Atkinson

A great deal more men than women favor routine paternity testing when a baby is born, says a survey from the University of Washington (UW) appearing in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior. But the real surprise to researchers was that the percentage of men wasn't higher! "The amazing thing is that the guys are always split 50-50. Age and income groups don't seem to matter," said Lisa Hayward, lead author of the study. The survey showed just 32 percent of women favor such routine testing. The difference in response between genders remained consistent in spite of marital and income status.

Other studies have shown that less than 1 percent of married women bear children fathered by men other than their husbands. The exceptions are studies conducted among women living in extreme poverty where the rate was as high as 10 percent. Researchers have speculated about why a woman would seek a father for her child other than her husband and usually conclude that it is to improve the child's genetic heritage or to gain parental investment from more than one male. Either way, it would normally be advantageous for the woman to keep the child's paternity a secret so that her husband would continue to care for the child as if he were the father. "There's this fascinating aspect that when we ask the guys who do not favor paternity testing why they are opposed, more than half of them say, 'Ignorance is bliss,'" said co-author Sievert Rohwer. "Then the question becomes, 'Whose ignorance, the cuckolder or the person being cuckolded?'"

The researchers speculate that few men are likely to father offspring with women to whom they are not married. "Men who are successful as philanderers probably are rare, but they may be successful with many women," he said.

Four different survey versions were used. In one, 170 people were asked only one question: whether hospitals should routinely include paternity testing for newborns. The rest received a survey with two additional questions - one regarding a father's presence in the delivery room and the other regarding inducement of labor - to mask the real aim of the survey. "It comes out pretty much the same, whether you ask it by itself or ask it in the context of other questions, and no matter what order the questions are in," Rohwer said.

Of the men who favored testing, it was unclear just how strongly they were in favor of finding out their children's paternity. Rohwer said he hopes to conduct further surveys to determine the strength of that desire. "There's a huge cost to finding out because there's all this mistrust that comes in," he said. "It has the potential to break up families and may not be in the male's best interest."

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