Testosterone levels dip when men become fathers. They drop even further the more involved a dad is in childcare. Does taking care of your babies make you less macho as some men might fear? Or, is tumbling testosterone a boon to your relationship with your children and your partner?
These questions were raised in a new study by researchers at Northwestern University who followed 624 single men between the ages of 21 and 26 in the Philippines for four-and-a-half years. Some of the men found partners and became biological fathers, some did not. On arrival of their babies, testosterone levels in men with children dropped significantly when compared with the men who had remained childless. We don't know is if becoming an adoptive dad has the same effect.
The study, "Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males," published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also reports that single men with higher testosterone are more likely to be in partnered relationships four-and-a-half years later. Once fathers, however, those who actively participated in childcare showed even lower testosterone levels than their counterparts who were not as engaged in caring for their children.
The good news is twofold: The testosterone tumble is temporary. And, the findings seem to indicate that men are biologically "wired" to help with childcare. Given that more women are working, their help is much needed.
Testosterone's role: A step toward gender equality?
"The Housewife's Moment of Truth," an article by Jane O'Reilly, appeared in an insert in a 1971 issue of New York Magazine; the insert paved the way for Ms Magazine. In oral history about the founding of Ms, "How Do You Spell Ms?," founding members referenced Jane's article. It reflected men's lack of family participation forty years ago: "Jane described a moment when a woman who's been piling up things on the stairs to take to the second floor watches her husband walk around them as he climbs the stairs, and she thinks, He has two hands! It was a prototypal "click" of realizing unfairness."
In her 1996 book, The Cultural Contradiction of Motherhood, Sharon Hays explained that the ideology and "unfairness" hadn't changed that much: Mothers expend a "tremendous amount of time, energy, and money in raising children." Where were the fathers?
Since then, mothers have gained a more stable footing in the workforce and are outstripping men, not only in terms of employment, but also in completed years of education. Even if fathers can find employment, more and more of them appear to be choosing to stay home to care for family or to work shorter hours. According to University of Wisconsin sociologist Noelle Chesley, the author of "Stay-at-Home Fathers and Breadwinning Mothers," published last month in Gender & Society, one percent of men were stay-at-home dads in the 1970s as opposed to some 19 percent in the 2000s.
The downturn in employment pushes "some men into at-home fatherhood," notes Chesley. Her study found that fathers' increased role in childcare reduced gender inequality when dads have primary responsibility for the children. Chesley believes that the phenomenon of stay-at-home dads "may reduce inequities that stem from traditionally gendered divisions in work/family responsibilities." Her results, she acknowledges, show variation according to class.
Jay Rossi's wife, Julie, has worked continually since they married, the exception being during her two maternity leaves. Jay has been at home working and assuming the bulk of childcare for their now 7- and 10-year-olds. He considers himself a bread-winning dad (with his own business) "wanting and craving to be an interactive father and have my kids remember who I am," he said when talking about his marriage ["Before and After (the Kids)."]
It appears that more dads want to be supportive. What do you think makes you or your partner (or will in the future) a better dad—dipping testosterone, the desire to be more central in your children's lives, or an economic downturn that forces men to become stay-at-home fathers?
Perhaps social change reflects a combination of factors. Whatever the cause, surely children benefit from having more involved fathers. Are conscientious dads propelling gender equality?
Copyright 2011 by Susan Newman
Brady, Lois Smith. "Before and After (the Kids)." New York Times, Nov. 20, 2011, p. ST 17.
Chesley, Noelle. "Stay-at-Home Fathers and Breadwinning Mothers: Gender, Couple Dynamics and Social Change." Gender & Society, Vol. 25, 5, October, 2011, pp. 642-664.
Gettlera, Lee T, McDadea, Thomas W., Feranilc, Alan B. and Kuzawaa, Christopher W. "Longitudinal evidence that fatherhood decreases testosterone in human males." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 27, 2011, Vol. 108, No. 39
Pogrebin, Abigail. "How Do You Spell Ms?" New York Magazine, October 30, 2011.