Are men to blame for menopause? They might be, according to a new study. In our evolutionary past, men’s preference for younger mates made fertility pointless for older women. This, in turn, may have eventually led to menopause.
In our evolutionary past, men’s preference for younger mates made fertility pointless for older women. This, in turn, may have eventually led to menopause.
How do you evolve infertility? It is contrary to the whole notion of natural selection. Natural selection selects for fertility, for reproduction–not for stopping it.
Over time, competition among men of all ages for younger mates has left older females with much less chance of reproducing. The forces of natural selection are concerned only with the survival of the species through individual fitness, so they protect fertility in women while they are most likely to reproduce.
After this period where women are most likely to reproduce, natural selection ceases to quell the genetic mutations that ultimately bring on menopause. This leaves women not only infertile, but also vulnerable to health problems.
This theory says that natural selection doesn’t have to do anything. If women were reproducing all along, and there were no preference against older women, women would be reproducing like men are for their whole lives.
Essentially, the very fact that men selected younger women means that older women lost the ability to reproduce. If women had selected younger men for reproduction, the outcome would have been reversed. Men would have lost their fertility while women would have stayed productive
They make sense. But an evolutionary biologist challenged the ‘blaming men for menopause’ theory. He said :
The authors argue that the menopause exists in humans because males have a strong preference for younger females. However, this is probably the wrong way round – the human male preference for younger females is likely to be because older females are less fertile. It makes more sense to see the human male preference for younger females largely as an evolved response to the menopause, and to assume that ancestral males would have been wise to mate with any females that could produce offspring. Evolutionarily-speaking, older females faced an interesting ‘choice’: have a child that may not reach adulthood before your own death, or stop reproducing and instead focus on helping your younger relatives reproduce.”
I was never convinced by the grandmother theory anyway. The ‘older women are for taking care of younger women’s children’ theory always sounds strange to me. I would have convinced if there were a grandfather theory as well. Grandfathers also take care of their grandchildren. Don’t they? After having menopause an average woman goes on to live for another 30 years. It is more than enough time to raise children. This extended longevity – plus later childbirth – could potentially alter the timing of the menopause, over a significant ‘period of time, researchers believe. They say, ‘the social system is changing. There are women who are starting families later, because of education or a career.This trend would mean those women would have a later menopause, and those genes would be passed on to their daughters with the possibility of menopausal age being delayed.’ Yes, it would take unbelievably long time because our social structure is by all means patriarchal. Patriarchal system has been indoctrinating men to marry younger women and women to marry older men. As long as poverty and patriarchy exist, men would continue marrying much younger women, they might not even stop marrying female children. Child marriage is becoming illegal, raping children is so increasing in many societies.
Women experience a major, rapid change in fertility as they menopause. But men’s changes are not very significant. ‘Testicular tissue mass decreases and the level of the male sex hormone testosterone stays the same or decreases very slightly. There may be problems with erectile function. But it is still a general slowing, rather than a complete lack of function. The tubes that carry sperm may become less elastic. The testes continue to produce sperm, but the rate of sperm cell production slows. The epididymis, seminal vesicles, and prostate gland lose some of their surface cells but continue to produce the fluid that helps carry sperm.But in case of women, It is an end of fertility. The body no longer makes female hormones after menopause. Hormone replacement therapy is dangerous. It causes cancer.
Not necessarily nature, it is society dominated by men that has given men the privileges to mate with younger women which is the reason for them being fertile forever and suffer from different health problems much less than women of the same age. Because of menopause or lack of hormones, women suffer from Osteoporosis,Heart disease, Poor bladder and bowel function,Poor brain function (increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease), Poor skin elasticity (increased wrinkling), Poor muscle power and tone, Some deterioration in vision, such as from cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye) etc. Women do not deserve to suffer from these diseases.
Pierce R. Butler says
I’ve never been a woman, but several people who have, even some with decades of experience in the field, tell me that access to semen is not much of a limiting factor in female life options.
Oh, yes, those boys need a little sorting out by a man who grasps the priorities of semen gathering among female humans.
Ace of Sevens says
Women live 30 after menopause now, but this is a recent development. This sounds more like speculation than a study. Is menopause even unique to humans? I was under the impression that many animals outlive their fertile years with modern veterinary care.
Lee Turnpenny says
Another over-hysterical blog title. Your use of ‘blame’ is tantamount to inverse sexism, is it not?
Where is the mention of the expenditure of energy and resources required to gestate a foetus and the toll exacted on a woman’s body? Perhaps it would be detrimental to a woman’s (and hence her foetus’s) survival were she to keep banging out offspring in later life – in evolutionary terms. There was perhaps no need to ‘evolve’ (in)fertility beyond our ancestors’ lifespans – because we wouldn’t have lived that (much) longer anyway. And you conveniently ignore why (where they are free to do so) younger women occasionally ‘select’ older men…
I agree with you. It does seem overzealous of her in some respects. As much as I respect her devotion to women’s causes, it’s disheartening to see her resort to blatant sexism to prove her point.
How amusing it is to watch the chicken and the egg arguement. X causes y, no y causes x. I’m afraid it’s just absurd to try to cal wich happened first. nevermind the fact that older men produce shittier sperm. That’s got to make a difference
I was thinking the same thing. Pregnancy and, especially for humans, childbirth are physical trauma. Menopause saves women’s lives.
Humans are very social animals. The grandmother theory includes grandfathers and makes a lot of sense. By living long enough to nurture your grandchildren you are nurturing your own genes.
Men may not need menopause. The most aggressive men, who I guess would be likely to be the ones with the most children early in their lives, also tend to be the most likely to die in violence (perhaps fighting over women). Us guys are kinda violent. Perhaps a man’s extended fertility allows the less violent men a chance to reproduce after the violent ones have died. I would think that society would benefit from less violent men having kids. I am just guessing here.
Yeah, and the title suggests I did something wrong. I assure you I had nothing to do with menopause.
Of course we don’t need it. We can send our genes on with a little spasm. A woman risks her life more and more as she ages.
You are very right about the violent part. If a woman is murdered it makes the front page but the much more common victim gets mentioned somewhere inside. Men are the murderers but so are most of the victims.
Gotta love EP…
I just wanted to point out that it is actually possible for preferences to pre-exist seemingly without a “good” (read: rational or logical) explanation. IIRC, in one of the labs studying zebra finches, it turned out that the colored leg bands used to identify individual birds were affecting females’ mate preferences directly. Lab lore says that some bored researchers noticed that if you put a tiny top hat on a male zebra finch the females went crazy for him over the others. (Um, no, zebra finches don’t ‘naturally’ don top hats…)
All of which is to say: menopause might indeed be the ‘fault’ of male mate preferences, without (apparently) logical explanation for the existence of those preferences. Shouldn’t the null hypothesis for the explanation of the existence of any behaviour or preference or other trait be “for no good reason”?
How many women wait until around the time of menopause to have kids? This strikes me as evolution done wrong.
Also, aren’t a woman’s ova reaching the end of their lifespan about that time? Women don’t continually produce new ova in the sense men produce new sperm if I remember correctly..
I always thought of you great, but you are one of them, aren’t you??? Always ‘creating’ a way to blame MEN.
You’ve said “isn’t there a grandfather theory”, right… But in reality, most men in those days won’t live long as women because they are the providers and protectors of the so called family.
Have you ever thought in this way(evolutionary process)…. Why does a man try to provide and protect women in those harsh conditions??? I mean, its easy for him to feed himself when compared to his entire family.
When and where?
At the time when people started having kids at 16, and (provided they didn’t die in childbirth earlier) typically lived up to the ripe old age of 50-55, at which point they were so old and their bodies so used up that they just died?
This conclusion is so absurd that it’s laughable, Taslima. You’re smarter than this, but you are completely off base here. First of all, one study proves nothing. Second the study authors made the massive assumption that ancient men preferred younger women. What evidence do they provide for this? None. They provide no evidence for this assumption without which their hypothesis falls flat on it’s face. Men may now as a general rule prefer younger women, but that doesn’t mean this was the case with ancient humans.
It it’s absolutely ridiculous and unscientific to take this one study as providing incontrovertible proof that your headline even approaches accuracy. In fact, there is no such thing as incontrovertible proof in science because new evidence could always be brought to light that overturns an existing theory so taking one study as seriously as you are taking it in your post here certainly makes no sense.
Men are not responsible for menopause. Period. (we’re not responsible for that either ; ) Even if a robust theory with plenty of evidence to back it up were to suggest with as near certainty as is possible with science that the mate choices of ancient men caused or contributed to menopause (which I think is HIGHLY unlikely) that would not mean that “the patriarchy” or any modern men are in any way responsible for menopause. Blaming modern men for something done by distant ancestors (even though we’ve no idea whether they did what is suggested or not) smacks of Abrahamic religious notions of inheritable guilt. All of your conclusions here suggest that you buy into to the (un)scientific version of original (male) sin.
After listing several diseases that post-menopausal women are likely to suffer from, you state:
In my opinion, no one “deserves” to suffer from any disease ever, but nearly all of us do or eventually will suffer from disease. The problem with your conclusion is that you are blaming men for women suffering from disease and that is patently absurd. Men have caused women suffering in various ways via our behavior towards women for who knows how long, but we didn’t cause menopause (and this study does not prove otherwise) or any of the various diseases associated with it. To suggest otherwise is both ignorant and sexist.
kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says
It’s a bit more complicated than that. In primates, including us, only 50% of the total sex hormone production comes from the gonads. That means that, technically, after your ovaries shut down you end up with approximately 50% of initial estrogen production, and that is made locally (that is called the autocrine production, and doesn’t enter the bloostream).
It also means that both male and female primates produce both estrogens and androgens (except for DHT – an hormone which is a 10X more potent androgen than testosterone, which is produced almost exclusively in the prostate, with some production in the skin, which is the cause of male-pattern baldness). This is very specific to primates. Rats, for instance, don’t have that kind of production.
That depends. In most women (except those who have family history of breast / ovarian cancer and possible genetic predisposition), HRT reduces mortality and mobidity considerably if its administration is targeted at the start of menopause for a total of no more than 5 years (from around 55 yo to 60 yo). The benefits for cadiac and bone health exceed the risks of cancer and even those who do get cancer tend to have better survival rates than those who don’t take HRT. After that time frame HRT does not bring any benefit.
People often forget that cardiovascular probems kill you just as dead as cancer often with comparable morbidity, and do so earlier, on average, than the latter. Women lose their inate cardiac protection at menopause.
Also, constant, slowly tapering androgen production in most males brings other kinds of problems. In most of them, it means benign prostate hyperplasia, and in some, prostate cancer. Androgens also don’t protect men from cardiovascular diseases as well as estrogens do for women.
kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says
Women are born with their entire complement of ova.
And this whole thing sounds like one of those evo-psych just-so stories that bother me greatly.
It does not take into account that long lifespans well beyond the likely age of reproduction for both men and women are relatively new evolutionarily speaking. For most of our existence, we humans were very unlikely to survive that long in an environment unforgiving of slower reflexes, decreased strenght and failing immunity, where each calorie had to be dearly fought for.
It is highly unlikely that evolutionary pressures have anything at all to do with what happens to the bodies of old men and women in modern societies.
It’s a bit like all those stories about cavewomen waiting while cavemen went hunting, extrapolating on a tiny moment of a tiny cultural subset of all humans to imagine what life was like for primitive humans, when it would be a whole lot more meaningful to look at how our evolutionary cousins function as a society and understand that this whole idea is utter bullshit.
I find these pseudo-scientific speculations both stupid and offensive.
Lets have proper scientific trial!
Take 5 thousand of woman who are approaching menopause after say 5 to 7 years i.e. at around the age of 33 to 35. Arrange men who will sex with them at least thrice a week for next 10 years that is till they reach the age of 45 and then see if their menopause starts or not.
The woman can be grouped so that each group can have sex at various frequencies to find out doing sex how many times a week will be most beneficial for stopping the menopause!
If the menopause does not start than the above theory will be proved and appropriate social arrangements can be done so that woman does not get menopause by doing sex.
Constance Roberts says
Women celebrate menopause as liberation from the physical and psychological demands of biological burdens and macho domination! Our maturity is rewarded by having proven our power over the dangers of the reproductive cycle and with justified freedom from sexual objectification (we hope, or, unless we play with it).
Sexism dictated the point of view throughout this report. Poor old guys popping Viagra are a joke for gratified women enjoying gender-irrelevant activities of personal choice. Why not mention this well-known and important fact of life? For example, the brilliant Bea Arthur certainly popularized this feminist ethic in “The Golden Girls.”
Older women finally have more options to choose whether to have babies later in life. Sensationalism — not science — pervades this “study.” It’s insultingly absurd. For God’s sake, people, well into the 20th century, men routinely sired offspring with a series of nice, fresh, young girls or women: just as soon as child-bearing killed off the last one.