Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males

Lee T. Gettler*, Thomas W. McDade, Alan B. Feranil, Christopher W. Kuzawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

303 Scopus citations

Abstract

In species in which males care for young, testosterone (T) is often high during mating periods but then declines to allow for caregiving of resulting offspring. This model may apply to human males, but past human studies of T and fatherhood have been cross-sectional, making it unclear whether fatherhood suppresses T or if men with lower T are more likely to become fathers. Here, we use a large representative study in the Philippines (n = 624) to show that among single nonfathers at baseline (2005) (21.5 ± 0.3 y), men with high waking T were more likely to become partnered fathers by the time of follow-up 4.5 y later (P < 0.05). Men who became partnered fathers then experienced large declines in waking (median: -26%) and evening (median: -34%) T, which were significantly greater than declines in single nonfathers (P < 0.001). Consistent with the hypothesis that child interaction suppresses T, fathers reporting 3 h or more of daily childcare had lower T at follow-up compared with fathers not involved in care (P < 0.05). Using longitudinal data, these findings show that T and reproductive strategy have bidirectional relationships in human males, with high T predicting subsequent mating success but then declining rapidly after men become fathers. Our findings suggest that T mediates tradeoffs between mating and parenting in humans, as seen in other species in which fathers care for young. They also highlight one likely explanation for previously observed health disparities between partnered fathers and single men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16194-16199
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume108
Issue number39
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 27 2011

Keywords

  • Challenge hypothesis
  • Hormones and behavior
  • Human evolution
  • Paternal care
  • Reproductive ecology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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