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Do Babies Really Look More Like Their Dads?

By Monica Bielanko |

Does this dad look like he needs to be convinced to stick around?

I recently confessed that because both my children look more like their dad, I often feel left out.

I got dozens of comments from people, many saying  the same thing: babies genetically look more like their dads.

Could this really be true?  I’d never heard this before?  How had I never heard this theory before?  Was it just a theory?

My mind was spinning with this new information.

Here are just a few things people said:

Someone once told me that babies look like their fathers when they are born so that their fathers don’t disown them – so that they KNOW that they are theirs.

I have heard it too that babies look like their dads for a biological/evolutionary reason – so the dads will know it’s their baby and want to take care of it. There can’t be any doubt who the mother is, so it doesn’t matter so much if the baby doesn’t look like her.

A friend of mine has an explanation for this (unscientific, but smart nonetheless). She thinks that it goes back to our primal, caveman roots. Kids need to look like their fathers to facilitate bonding and to basically let the dad know that the kid REALLY does belong to them. Then maybe Dad will be more inclined to stick around to hunt and provide for his kids. We moms will love our kids no matter what they look like, but before the concept of monogamy and wedding bands, the dads needed a little extra reassurance that the kids are really theirs.

A baby needs to look like his/her baby so the father knows the baby is his and not someone else’s and will provide for both the mother & baby.

With this many people referencing the same ambiguous urban legend-sounding anecdote passed from friend or mother, I just had to dig a little deeper and see if I could uncover the real story.  First thing I came to was this New York Times article that says studies suggest that, yes, babies do tend to look more like their fathers.

You can read the article but the gist is this: in 1995, a study put the question to the test by having 122 people try to match pictures of children they didn’t know – at one year, 10 years and 20 years- with photos of their mothers and fathers.

The group members correctly paired about half of the infants with their fathers, but their success rate was much lower matching infants and mothers. And matching the 20 year-olds with either parent proved to be just as hard. The researchers concluded just what so many commenters to my post said. Fathers cannot be sure the baby is theirs but if they spot a resemblance they will know the child belongs to them and be more likely to provide for their baby.  HOWEVER, this journalist, researching the same topic points out a study a few years later: “a research team in Belgium was unable to replicate the 1995 study, finding strangers were in fact no better able to match a photo of an infant with its father than with its mother. And, in fact, it found that the ability of strangers to match a child with either parent was lower than 50%.”

Whether babies look more like their dads is one thing, but another study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2003, seems to show men are drawn to babies who look like them. A group of researchers took head shots of people then morphed them with baby faces. When they showed the people the photos the men were more likely to say they’d adopt the babies who had more of their own facial characteristics. The women showed no preference for children with their features.

Not only does dad like when baby looks like him, but studies show mom is usually the first one to insist baby looks like dad.  This fascinating and thorough blog post summarizes some of the most recent research in this area. The author points out that fathers have a strong vested interest in ensuring a child is theirs. In fact, studies using MRIs have found men even look at their children differently than women: presumably searching for evidence of a familial match.

The author goes on to outline one study of 160 couples with newborns that tried to answer this, by asking 60 couples together and 100 mothers alone which parent the baby resembled.  When asked which parent their infant resembled, mothers with the father present replied 87.5% of the time that the baby looked like the father–but when the father was not in the room the paternal resemblance frequency suddenly dropped to 60.0%! Fathers reported self-resemblance only slightly more than half the time (51.4%). More than 1/3 of the time they gave no response since the mother apparently stepped in to answer first (the mother did not answer in only four cases). The reason for this? Mom’s genetic investment in her infant and her own well being might be at risk if her baby’s paternity is in doubt. One study shows that mere perception of dissimilarity between a man and his offspring can contribute to family violence.

Interesting. But not super scientific. Even if babies do tend to look like dads and men do prefer children with their characteristics, how do you prove the caveman theory that it’s actually genetically this way so men will provide for their children? Isn’t that just speculation about mother nature’s motives on our part?

My best guess – and I’m certainly no expert – is that babies don’t necessarily look like dad, but mom apparently does her best to convince dad that baby does look like him for the same reasons already mentioned.  Also, traditionally, dads are less interested in the kids and perhaps mom thinks that baby looking more like dad will give him the little push he needs to excel at fatherhood?

What do you think?

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About Monica Bielanko


Monica Bielanko

Monica Bielanko was raised on the wild frontier of late 1970's Utah. She is a recovering Mormon who married the guitar player of an unknown band. She's been married to her Babble Voices writing partner, Serge Bielanko, for the past nine years. Her personal blog, The Girl Who was in the top ten of last year's Top 50 list. Read bio and latest posts → Read Monica's latest posts →

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23 thoughts on “Do Babies Really Look More Like Their Dads?

  1. Lauren says:

    I think this theory is bunk. I am my mother’s identical twin. People have often said that I was conceived by some miracle because there is no way that my father contributed an ounce of his DNA. But usually, they haven’t seen my toes. :)

  2. bridgitt says:

    Ditto to Lauren. I look exactly like my mom. My daughter looks exactly like me. No sign of dad in either of us, physically!

  3. lauren w says:

    @ the other lauren and bridgitt, the article is not discussing which parent you resemble now, as a grown adult. it’s discussing whether newborns or small infants look more like their fathers. i, too, could be my mother’s twin. but as a small infant i did indeed look more like my dad.

  4. Saffron UK says:

    Hmm, I am my dad’s double. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit, my mother’s statuesque 5’9″ willowy red headed beauty, instead I look like a short Kenny Rogers, (not that Ken is my dad, its just he and my pa look alike!)
    Please excuse any spelling mistake’s its 2 am here in the UK, and I have just finished a marathon redecorating session as my house was minging, and I will have to get up for the day in 5 hours!!

  5. Jillian says:

    My first son would be a text book example of this. He really does look like his dad. A lot. I bought the theory, at least in a general way. Then my second son was born and it looked like I pushed out a carbon copy of one of my baby photos. So it seems we split it right down the middle.

  6. Courtney says:

    I know of a different theory-all babies look generic so it’s easy to find traits that *could* be attributed to the father so then the father will want to stick around and by the time visible differences start showing up the dad is attached to the kid and will ignore/write off the differences.

  7. LauraS says:

    My brother and I are clones of our father. Even though there is 7 years between us, we are frequently mistaken for twins.

  8. Sonja says:

    It’s an interesting theory… but my own baby looks almost like a clone of baby pictures of *me* and only sort of resembles his father (enough so that there IS a resemblance, but they don’t look “alike” in any real way). I guess he’s the outlier!

  9. Laura says:

    Good analysis Monica – as a biologist (disclaimer – botanist – but evolutionary rules still apply!) and someone just generally interested in human evolution and behavior, I’ve spent some time thinking about this. It’s been proven in other groups of animals too, from birds to primates, that fathers will give preferential treatment to their offspring. Since fathers might conceivably be more interested in taking care of babies they believe to be their own, it would sort of make sense that paternal-dominant phenotypes would be selected for. But it’s a total random crapshoot, as far as we really understand it. It seems to me that because we understand the logic of babies looking like fathers, we repeat those stories to each other, further solidifying that notion. And, like you said, whether consciously or not, women have a biological imperative to convince the dad that yes, this child is yours! Fascinating to think about!

  10. MrsK says:

    Interesting. J has specific traits from each of us and favors me more and more as she grows. As an infant she looked nothing like my hubby save for her butt chin (you know, that dimple) and Hubby had blonde hair when he was a baby too (now it is a very dark brown).

  11. J.S. says:

    The evolutionary reasoning that babies would develop to look more like their fathers is bunk, because, in a world before mirrors, a father would not know what he himself looked like. So he could not judge whether a baby looked like him or not. Evolution is a painstakingly slow process, and mirrors have only existed for a few thousand years. So there’s no way this could be true.

  12. Lauren says:

    Urban legend. Kids have two sets of DNA and it’s totally random which features they get. I’m the oldest of five kids, my husband the oldest of eight, and while our families look like sets, some siblings don’t look anything alike because some look so much like mom, some like dad.

  13. Gina says:

    My opinion/theory, like Courtney, is that newborn to several week old infants, by facial characteristics alone, could pass for either male or female. In the newborn daughter, for lack of feminine facial features, I think we tend to see male traits and have to look harder for evidence of the mother. Not always! As the baby grows, and become more feminine, we can see that she looks more like….yep, DADDY! Kidding. Welp there goes my theory. But when we KNOW a child is male, we might automatically look for familiar daddy traits. I quit.

    Have a nice day! He looks like you too. :)

  14. Ruby says:

    We as women are more about looking toward others so we tend to see the father’s features rather than our own. He is looking for reassurance and finds his features. But if you look for it you see mother’s features as well. It’s just a matter of how we perceive. Both features are there.

  15. fahrenheit says:

    trying to guess the laws of nature sounds like an endeavor for people with a GOD-complex. this being said, the roulette results for a given period of time are not equally split between red and black.
    p.s. don’t worry: both v&h resemble both m&s! :-)

  16. jw says:

    i have 3 boys, 13, 8 and 2. they ALL came out looking like dad . a lot. and now that the eldest is 13, he looks A LOT more like me than he ever has. and i mean a lot more. his whole head shape changed. my husband has a really round head, me a very oval one, when he was born- round head, now, it’s oval, like me! all my boys look like clones of each other, and now that the middle one is 8, he’s changing a lot too. i think it’s nice for the dad’s to have their kids look like them. there is so much with mom especially when they are little, it’s nice for the dad’s too feel connected.

  17. SouthernMan says:

    I’m glad my wife doesn’t look like her dad.

  18. Danni says:

    interesting.. my mom and I have almost identical baby pictures.. it’s only as I’ve gotten older that I see any resemblance to my dad!

  19. Cristin says:

    I think similarities change over the years. For instance, I looked very much like my father when I was an infant and now I am slowly morphing into a younger version of my mother. Oh, God. Even strangers who used to say, “You look just like your father,” now tell me I look like my mom. So Violet may very well be your mini me when she’s older. But I do think your kiddos look just like their dad! They are sweethearts.

  20. Sara says:

    I have looked at both of my parents baby photos and my own baby photo…we looked very similar when as babies. And my parents really don’t look alike at all alike as adults. At first my family thought I resembled my father but now I am almost an exact replica of my mother except I am an entire foot taller.
    My brother looked exactly like my grandpa(my dad’s father) at birth and he still does, except he is built like my mother’s brothers.
    So maybe look at your and Serge’s baby photos, you may look more similar than you think minus the obvious eye-color/hair color etc.

  21. Blakesmom says:

    our little man is the carbon copy of his daddy. Baby pictures are identical. I notice that even in my friends children that their first born children highly resemble the father, where their second looked more like mommy.I dont think that means anything, just that its a coincidence! :)

  22. Jen says:

    Sounds like an urban legend to me. But I will say this: my son initially looked exactly like my husband. The only characteristic my son and I shared was the fact that we were both decent-sized babies at birth (around 9 pounds) and my husband was not even 6 pounds at birth. But over the months, he slowly started to look more like me, and I think now the resemblance is pretty obvious. He has his dad’s eyes and lips, but pretty much everything else is me. I think it’s a good compromise. :)

  23. icons set says:

    Now that’s something like it!

    P.S. Please review icons

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