Science says it’s rare for men to be cuckolded into raising children not their own

Golden Eagle chicks in their nest in Scotland. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Very few fathers have, despite the popularity of the cuckold in fiction, unknowingly raised children not biologically their own, according to the latest scientific studies.

Researchers, writing in journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution, say the the collective evidence challenges the idea that it pays, evolutionarily speaking, to sleep around.

“Media and popular scientific literature often claim that many alleged fathers are being cuckolded into raising children that biologically are not their own,” says Maarten Larmuseau of KU Leuven in Belgium.

“Surprisingly, the estimated rates within human populations are quite low, around 1% or 2%.”

Those rates apparently haven’t changed much despite the fact that people in the past didn’t have access to modern contraceptives.

“For us, it came as a surprise that several recent studies also estimated historical rates of cuckoldry in other human populations, and came up with equally low estimates in South Africa, Italy, Spain and Mali,” he says.

The findings suggest that any potential advantage of cheating in order to have children with better attributes is offset for the majority of women by the potential costs.

Those include spousal aggression, divorce or reduced paternal investment by the social partner or his relatives.

“The observed low cuckoldry rates in contemporary and past human populations challenge clearly the well-known idea that women routinely ‘shop around’ for good genes by engaging in extra-pair copulations to obtain genetic benefits for their children,” says Larmuseau.