The absence of a father — due to incarceration, death, separation or divorce — has adverse physical and behavioral consequences for a growing child. But little is known about the biological processes that underlie this link between father loss and child well-being.
In a study published July 18 in the journal Pediatrics, a team of researchers, including those from Princeton University, report that the loss of a father has a significant adverse effect on telomeres, the protective nucleoprotein end caps of chromosomes. At 9 years of age, children who had lost their father had significantly shorter telomeres — 14 percent shorter on average — than children who had not. Death had the largest association, and the effects were greater for boys than girls.