Research in the August 2017 issue of Pediatrics suggests that the stress of losing a father may have measurable effects on child's DNA.
The study, "Father Loss and Child Telomere Length" (published online July 18), involved 2,420 children enrolled in the federally funded Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study.
At age 9, children separated from their fathers through death, jail time or parental break-up had an average of 14% shorter telomeres, the protective portions of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that shorten with age. Telomere length may affect later health or lifespan, because cell division stops once they become short enough. The researchers found that a father's death was associated with the largest reduction in a child's telomere length (16%), followed by incarceration (10%) and separation/divorce (6%). The association between telomere length and father loss appeared largely dependent on income loss following separation or divorce, they said, but this wasn't the case when the loss of a father resulted from death or incarceration.
Researchers conclude the findings underscore the important role of fathers in the care and development of children, and add to evidence showing the harmful effects a parent's jail time has on children.