Photo of a father and his young children
Men are just as hardwired to take care of their children as women, accoridng to a new study [Image: Sreejithk2000 - Wikimedia Commons]

Study shows fathers are hormonally hardwired
to care for kids

7 October, 2011

Natural Health News — A new study provides compelling evidence that that fatherhood lowers a man’s testosterone levels, suggesting that men are biologically wired to care for their offspring.

This physiological response to fatherhood, say researchers at Northwestern University in Illinois in the US, is consistent with what is observed in many other species in which males help take care of dependent offspring.

Testosterone boosts behaviours and other traits that help a male compete for a mate. But after they succeed and become fathers, “mating-related” activities may conflict with the responsibilities of fatherhood – and so the body adapts to reduce production of the hormone.

“Humans are unusual among mammals in that our offspring are dependent upon older individuals for feeding and protection for more than a decade,” said Christopher W. Kuzawa, co-author of the study and associate professor of anthropology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“Raising human offspring is such an effort that it is cooperative by necessity, and our study shows that human fathers are biologically wired to help with the job.”

Past studies showing that fathers tend to have lower testosterone levels were small and not conclusive regarding whether fatherhood diminished testosterone or whether men with low testosterone in the first place were more likely to become fathers.

This most recent study which followed a group of 624 males aged 21.5 to 26 years old for 4.5 years in the Philippines, took takes a novel approach by following a large group of men who were not fathers and seeing whether their hormones changed after becoming fathers.

It found that the men who started with high testosterone were more likely to become fathers, but once they did, levels of this hormone dropped substantially. What is more the findings suggested that this is especially true for fathers who become the most involved with child care.

The new study’s findings also suggest that fathers may experience an especially large, but temporary, decline in testosterone when they first bring home a newborn baby.

Fatherhood and the demands of having a newborn baby require many emotional, psychological and physical adjustments and these results suggest that a man’s biology can change substantially to help meet those demands.

The authors also suggest that their findings may provide insight into one reason why single men often have poorer health than married men and fathers.

“If fathers have lower testosterone levels, this might protect them against certain chronic diseases as they age,” Kuzawa said.