At the cellular level, a child’s loss of a father is associated with increased stress

Sept. 20, 2017

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 FFCWS researchers 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.

Telomeres are thought to reflect cell aging and overall health — their role is to help maintain the DNA ends of chromosomes following cell division. Each time a cell divides, its telomeres shorten; once telomeres are too short, cell replication stops. Previous research has suggested that shortened telomeres are associated with a wide range of diseases in adults, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

To read more about this study, see the full article from the Princeton Office of Communications, the article from Princeton Allumni Weekly, or this interview with Dr. Daniel Notterman by the Institute for Family Studies.

Click here to read the Pediatrics paper.

[Text adapted from an article written by Pooja Makhijani, Princeton Office of Communications; image by Eleni Kalorkoti]