The loss of a father affects children at the cellular level, according to research published this month in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers collected DNA from children who had lost a biological father by death, divorce, or incarceration. They found that children with father loss had significantly shorter telomeres, part of a chromosome that protects it from deterioration, a change associated with chronic stress. A father’s death led to a 16 percent reduction, followed by a 10 percent reduction for incarceration and a 6 percent reduction for divorce or separation.
Overall, the attrition was 40 percent greater for boys than girls, pointing to the specific importance of fathers for sons.
Previous studies had linked the loss of a father to negative health and behavioral consequences, but this was the first study to look at the effect on a biological level. —K.C.