Fatherhood Leads to a Drop in Testosterone

As reported in the NYT, a study has recently shown that after a man has a kid, his testosterone levels drop, and the more involved he gets in child-rearing, the lower his T levels fall. “Men who spent more than three hours a day caring for children — playing, feeding, bathing, toileting, reading or dressing them — had the lowest testosterone.” This reduction in testosterone is thought to help men commit to their families and stick around to rear their progeny.

Although testosterone plays a central role in making men manly, researchers say the findings shouldn’t freak guys out and make them feel like fatherhood makes them wimpy. They say men should focus on the takeaway that the study seems to prove that men, like women, are biologically adapted to being hands-on parents. Evolutionary biology professor Dr. Peter Ellison hopes the study helps men “realize that we’re meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring.”

The study is interesting too as it shows that your behavior can affect the hormones you release, and not just vice versa.

What do you think? Does the study make fatherhood seem less manly or do you find the results encouraging?

Read the article: In Study, Fatherhood Leads to Drop in Testosterone (@NYT)


{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Doggett September 12, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Wow. Thank you for giving me permission to be a father who loves his children well. I have five. And I have never felt more masculine than when I sacrifice for their well being.

Jonathan September 12, 2011 at 10:07 pm

That assumes the level of testosterone is determines the level of manhood. I vote with Jim; the level of sacrifice is far more valuable. Good discussion.

Andrew September 12, 2011 at 10:08 pm

I think the drop in testosterone should simply inspire fathers to become even manlier men. Adapt and overcome the obstacles, even if your very essence of manliness is reduced.

Craig Roper September 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm

I had bloodwork done this summer (after my Pediatric clincals) and my testosterone levels were elevated…

Cory B.A. Ok September 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

What could be more manly than assuming responsibility to provide for and protect the young and the innocent? I’ve never had so much testosterone coursing through my system as when thoughts of my family being harmed come to mind. I’d love some greasy-headed, skinny-jeaned wearing to call me a ‘sissy’ in front of my children.

Jo Duran September 12, 2011 at 10:13 pm

From a female perspective, a man is more manly because he steps up to fatherhood. It takes a lot of heart, character, body, mind and spirit to nurture another being to become a positive member of society. Bravo to the men who have stepped up to the plate and are putting their best forward. A man who can rock a baby to sleep, hold his woman gently then go out and chop a tree is pretty darn sexy.

Roy September 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm

Testosterone doesn’t make people manly – being a man is about far more than the aggression and physicality that that particular hormone controls. As Jonathan says, its about sacrifice, but also about courage, honesty, hard work and above all else, love for your family.

jrh September 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm

I saw discovery channel cover this same theory. It seems pretty valid actually. Jim, no need to confuse T levels with masculine values. That’s not the point of the theory.

The basic idea was that the very behavioral habits that testosterone fosters in us which are beneficial to finding a mate and detrimental to raising kids, thus nature lowers our levels to help our kids survive.

Think base, caveman instincts. Testoterone drives us to:

Be more willing to explore and travel – Good for mating, as it makes us go seek a mate. Bad for fatherhood as it tempts us to leave instead of stay with the family

Seek out females to mate with – good for mating Obviously. Bad for staying home with the decided mate and kids.

More aggressive and confrontational – good for mating, as you will need to confront, challenge and maybe fight other males for the chance to mate. Bad for fatherhood, because it makes you more prone to get into confrontations which can get you killed, leaving the kids fatherless.

Its actually a very intersting study. They also look at how things like team competition, winning, losing, mating all effect T levels.

Short version, participating in team sports at all (which are the modern day surrogate activity for warfare) boosts T. Being on the winnign side boosts it more.

Being single boost it. In fact, males being studied showed that as far as one year PRIOR to a divorce, their levels started rising again. Marriage drops it. Childbirth torpedoes it.

Henry September 12, 2011 at 10:17 pm

True that, Andrew. I recommend lifting your children. Start when they’re young with light, simple moves like bicep curls, and as they grow heavier and you progress, you can switch to heavier, compound moves like bench, squat and dead-lift. You’re playing with your children and increasing your testosterone levels at the same time. Win-win.

jrh September 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm

I think there are two seperate things being considered. This theory and T levels aren’t being considered from a manly VALUES perspective. This is only talking about T levels from a chemical, biological and evolutionary perspective.

bearto September 12, 2011 at 10:27 pm

I used to rip people apart with my bare hands before my marriage and Fathering 2 children. It was a very primal time I suppose.

Nowadays, rather than put a fist through an object that stands in my way, I cry myself to sleep on my huge pillow.

I am known among circles of friends as having a large Mangina.

Perhaps I need to take a supplement that will increase my testosterone?

shaun September 12, 2011 at 10:30 pm

testosterone does not make men “manly”, meeting responsibilities, protecting, and providing for family does.

Craig Roper September 12, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Amen Shaun.

Keith September 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm

“testosterone does not make men “manly”, meeting responsibilities, protecting, and providing for family does.”

That’s ridiculous. Without testosterone, you’d be meeting responsibilities, protecting, and providing for your family….with a vagina.

Amen to jrh’s comments–he’s making sense and not talking platitudes. Don’t confuse masculine values with masculine biological characteristics.

Dale Touchton September 12, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I wouldn’t trade having been a devoted Dad in the lives of my children for anything and can say the same thing in relation to my grandchildren at this point in life. Most women, it seems, give rather high “manly” marks to a mate who is involved with the family. Tip of the hat to the real men of the world who make the biggest difference in the lives of the next generations.

Craig Roper September 12, 2011 at 10:52 pm

A boy: flips out when people mess with him, only looks out for himself, does not know the meaning of respect, honor, and love, has blinding pride and always looks for ways to try to prove his “Manliness.”

A man: shakes it off when people mess with him but will destroy you if you mess with anyone else, looks out for everyone else (including strangers) before he even thinks of himself, lives by respect, honor, and love, forgot about his pride long ago, and when he takes action (even the most simple of tasks such as changing a diaper or hugging his kids) manliness flows naturally.

When a boy is laying in bed at night, he questions whether he’s man enough or not. When a man lays in bed at night, he thinks of ways to make his family even more happy while dreams of them take him away for a little while.

Jeff Sutherland September 12, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Even if women claim to be attracted to men caring for children, there’s a good chance their hormones are set up to be sexually attracted to men with robust T levels.

As a father of 4 who wants to keep marriage hot, I take this as another warning to make sure I am regularly engaging in activities shown to elevate T.

Andy Myers September 12, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Testosterone is nothing but juice that runs through us. Sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down. Manliness is a state of mind and state of being and I can think of nothing manlier than being a good dad. Any boy can get a lady pregnant, it takes a man to stick around and mold those little critters.

Dunc September 13, 2011 at 12:03 am

I think this study might make an accurate evaluation of masculinity based on testosterone levels. If you are reading this blog because you believe that manliness is fading out, or needs to be revived, then you should agree that this one study didn’t test the hormone levels of the manliest fathers out there. You can be a manly father, or an unmanly father. I think men should protect their children from the world until they are ready to handle certain things themselves. But fathers should not hide their children from the wild world we live in, as seems to be the trend in parenting these days.

Tony September 13, 2011 at 6:22 am

This may explain why it’s women who end marriages at a rate of 2 to 3 times as often as men. The very man they were attracted to is no longer there when they have kids.

So once again, somehow, the behavior of women will be blamed on men.
(Said tongue in cheek.)

But on a more serious note, let’s be honest about who is leaving whom. In the case of marriages breaking up, it’s far more often the woman who is breaking up the family, and seldom is that because of his bad behavior.

TD September 13, 2011 at 6:36 am

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

-Don Corleone

greg September 13, 2011 at 8:24 am

amen Tony, Women dont admit it and are not aware probly, but they operate in a very base instincuatal way when it somes to relationships, looking out for themselves.

Ben September 13, 2011 at 10:17 am

There is nothing more manly than being a father.

J.T. September 13, 2011 at 10:31 am

It’s worth remembering that changes in testosterone rarely affect behavior, so a drop in T shouldn’t much matter.

A great article on testosterone: Testosterone Rules by Robert Sapolsky ( http://discovermagazine.com/1997/mar/testosteronerule1077 )

“Zero levels [of testosterone] after castration, and down [aggression] usually goes; quadruple levels (the sort of range generated in weight lifters abusing anabolic steroids), and aggression typically increases. But anywhere from roughly 20 percent of normal to twice normal and it’s all the same. The brain can’t distinguish among this wide range of basically normal values. “

Clint September 13, 2011 at 11:21 am

Real men shouldn’t let something as trivial as hormone levels quantify their manliness. It’s something measured in “show” not “tell.”

Go For Miles September 13, 2011 at 12:22 pm

There is danger in the esoteric view here, gentlemen. Kieth and jrh have the gist of it – biologically speaking, a drop of significant value in testosterone DOES make you “less manly.” Does it, however, make you less of a person for upholding your responsibilities and protecting your home? No, certainly not. This sounds like the kind of article that breeds a unique excuse for everyone – “I value my kids more than anything, so I’m still a man,” “taking care of children and raising them correctly with great values – nothing more manly!”

The study conducted never said anything to contradict this. In terms of personal responsibility and the values that govern how one behaves – testosterone hardly plays a factor. Again, though, testosterone is a decidedly male characteristic. Deciding that you need an excuse to write off a scientific finding for the sake of ego is, unquestionably, not manly. If this kind of study scares you or makes you turn an indignant shoulder in favor of excuse – it probably means that you feel somehow deficient anyway. So – go to the doctor, find out your test levels. IF the numbers bother you, then, guess what? Fix them! Eat more cruciferous vegetables, exercise with heavier weights, etc.

My point – there is NOTHING in the statement, ‘fatherhood makes test-levels decline,’ that says, ‘men who have kids aren’t men anymore.’ Don’t get offended so easily. And don’t make excuses. Good article; good points.

Joshua September 13, 2011 at 2:14 pm

Speaking as a man who was raised by a former radical feminist and a very nurturing father, I’d like to add my two cents for the guys who seem ready to write off testosterone and the force of personality that is associated with it as being peripheral to masculinity when compared with sacrificing for their children, spending more time etc. This is not what your kids need from you, trust me as I speak from 34 years of experience. While I deeply appreciate my father’s efforts to be present, nurturing etc. I can assure you that this is not what his 3 children really needed from him, he likely fell into the low testosterone category and usually ended up functioning more as my mother’s assistant than anything else – this is NOT a good example to set. What we needed from my dad was precisely the authority, discipline, risk-taking, assertive, aggressive energy that our society as a whole seems to treat as some kind of pathology. The fact of the matter is that as children we would have complained, rebelled against, and maybe even hated dad for being more authoritarian, forceful, and demanding risk / responsibility oriented behaviors from us, and loved him for being less so, but I repeat, this is not what we NEEDED and as kids spoiled by an excess of nurturing and indulgence, we could not have known what we needed or understood it. These lessons I have had to learn as an adult because I was never expected or required to do so while under the influence of my parents. It’s not your wife or your children’s place to tell you when it’s ok to be a masculine force of testosterone fueled energy and activity, THAT’S YOUR RIGHT AND DUTY, and it’s your responsibility to cultivate and bring the disciplined aggression and authority into your children’s lives that can only come from being influenced by a man who is proud to do so. It’s a gift and a privilege which your little ones will only appreciate once they reach adulthood and have to be self-reliant. Meeting responsibilities, protecting family etc. are gender neutral – MASCULINITY IS NOT SO SUBJECTIVE ! – it’s a confluence of biological factors ( testosterone and dopamine oriented behavior ) and attitude, skill, and excellence that is always recognizable, trying to put a relativistic spin on that is just self-deception. Treating masculinity as some vague, ambiguous value does your children no favors whatsoever, because once they reach sexual maturity, they will see the ambiguity for what it really is, the rationalization of a real deficiency. As men and as fathers, what our children need from us is not more mothering, but ENERGY, AUTHORITY, DISCIPLINED AGGRESSION AND RISK TAKING, CLEAR RULES BOUNDARIES, AND AN INSTINCTIVE UNDERSTANDING OF POWER. Throw out the Kumbaya, granola, and “soft” manliness. Give your children rock, adrenaline, and a just hierarchy and they will give you real love and respect rather than the vague, uninspired and limp sense of attachment that so often passes for respect these days.
Take care of your balls gentlemen, you only live once.

Stephen September 14, 2011 at 3:30 pm

“Evolutionary biology professor Dr. Peter Ellison hopes the study helps men “realize that we’re meant to be active fathers and participate in the care of our offspring.”

No argument that men are meant to be “hands on” dads, but note the contradiction in the sentence above.

Evolution doesn’t “mean” for anything to happen. If this research shows men are meant to play an active role in the family, it’s because men are *designed* that way. I believe we’re designed that way by someone who understands better than anyone else what masculinity means, namely initiation, sacrifice, commitment, honor, etc.

Daniel September 16, 2011 at 11:53 am

This explains the lack of sex. I knew it!

Amy September 25, 2011 at 9:34 am

I have never dreamed or desired to be a man. I am built to do very specific things as a woman. I suck at being a man and don’t even try.

I also have never desired to be with a man who was confused about his purpose and power as a man.

It is imperative that men be men and women be women. No role reversal. No apologies.

Last time I checked, men were the foundation of the family, not the women.

Strong foundations require strong material.

Men being real men and never compromising who they are regardless of society, a poll or a popularity contest are the men that make our worlds better.

Give me a brut who gets in my face and leads like a man… A man who panders to a woman does NOT understand who he is yet…

To all the men who stand alone at the top of the mountain, you are the few and priceless that anchor us all.

God, I pray we get in order as men and women. Life would flow and make sense and EVERYONE would benefit.

RNJohnny November 7, 2011 at 10:32 pm

I think it’s great that there is physiological data supporting that men are naturally designed to be parents. I just became a father and I love my “daddy time” with my little boy. And I have definitely noticed the lowered T. I don’t obsess about things I want so much and I can actually think about something other than sex in the abstract moreso than I used to. Still want it, but don’t NEED it all the time.

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