There was a fascinating study I read several years ago that sampled the genes of children and their parents across working, middle and upper classes in the UK, looking for variations in the degree those women had made cuckolds of their husbands.  In other words, what percentage of families had children from fathers other than the father the children thought was theirs?

Across all UK classes, ~20 percent of children were living in families with fathers that were not their own.

On a show called Radio Lab, available by blog cast, there was a story that described a boy’s genotype being compared to his mother’s with the discovery that the boy’s mother was not really his mother.  After confirming that there had been no hospital mix-up (the boy was directly related to his dad), it was discovered that the mother was actually a two-person hybrid, a chimera.  In the womb, two embryos had somehow merged.  The boy was a direct descendant of some parts of the mother’s body, but not other parts.  The boy was not descended from the parts that had been the mother’s uterine sister.

A feature of rare aboriginal societies is that there are children that don’t know who their father is.  Lineage is through the mother.  Often, the mother’s brothers act as fathers to a sister’s kids.  It has been hypothesized by some evolutionary anthropologists that humans evolved out of this social constellation.  There are signs that modern society is drifting back in this direction.  The 20-percent figure noted in the UK study suggests that many of us are already there, or never left.

With the emergence of cheap paternity tests, the days of phantom fathers are over, if people care.  Serial monogamy is on the rise.  Contemporary society is starting to look like a mash-up of social structure archetypes, with females choosing their children’s father, which may not be the same person as their mate of the moment, with aunts and uncles playing varying degrees of importance in children’s lives.

It seems to me that in the United States, the more money that a family has, the more likely the children will move away.  College provides professions.  Professions move the professional to where the jobs are.  With no college, the children often stay relatively close to home.  Families disperse with added assets.  This is my conjecture.

How this affects avuncular behavior which might encourage women to have children with no father input is not clear to me.  But, it would seem that the poorer the family, and the more uncles that are nearby, the more possible it would be that the children would not share genes with the male that is living with the mother.  Then again, in a wealthier family, an uncle would have more assets to disperse to sisters wherever he might be living in the country.

This all seems a stretch as regards evolutionary conjecture.  Still, it’s fun to assemble and reassemble the Tinkertoy hubs and nodes of our social structure to see how things fit in different ways.


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