The Ups and Downs of Testosterone

Testosterone levels are high when men are single, go down when they marry, and rise when they divorce.

By Annie Murphy Paul, published on November 1, 1997 - last reviewed on March 26, 2007

Men who worry that marriage will tame their wilder impulses may not
be far wrong. Levels of the hormone testosterone,
which is thought to contribute to aggressive and dominating behavior, are
high when men are single, go down when they marry, and rise when
they divorce.

Although some men have consistently higher levels of testosterone
than others, hormone levels in all men respond to changes in status. In
anticipation of a competition, for example, testosterone goes up; after
it's settled, the testosterone of the winner rises further still, while
that of the loser goes down. Researchers have found a similar process in
marriage.

Allan Mazur, of Syracuse University, theorizes that single
men have high levels of the hormone because they are in competition for
women and other "resources," while married men have lower levels because
they are less competitive and receive social support from their wives.
The discord of divorce, however, may cause testosterone levels to rise
again.

That can set a vicious cycle in motion: high testosterone levels
create dominant behavior, which in turn creates more hormone-elevating
challenges. Mazur's
collaborator, Alan Booth, of Pennsylvania State University, says
"some men, especially those with very caring early relationships
with their parents, learn to use the energy and aggressiveness of high
testosterone in productive ways."