Northwestern University researchers have found that men’s testosterone levels fall off when they become fathers, presumably priming them for caretaking behaviors rather than competing for a mate.

The effect is consistent with what is observed in many other species in which males help take care of dependent offspring.

After they succeed and become fathers, “mating-related” activities may conflict with the responsibilities of fatherhood, making it advantageous for the body 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, Ph.D., a co-author of the study.

“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.”

The new study followed a large group of men who were not fathers and seeing whether their hormones changed after becoming fathers.

“It’s not the case that men with lower testosterone are simply more likely to become fathers,” said Lee Gettler, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at Northwestern and co-author of the study.

“On the contrary, the men who started with high testosterone were more likely to become fathers, but once they did, their testosterone went down substantially. Our findings suggest that this is especially true for fathers who become the most involved with child care.”

Research findings 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,” Gettler said. “Our study indicates that a man’s biology can change substantially to help meet those demands.”

An interesting outcome of the study may provide an explanation for 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.

Source: Northwestern University