An intriguing new long-term study of Filipino men has discovered that becoming a father lowers a man’s testosterone level. More specifically, what really drops male testosterone is the amount of time spent caring for children; men who spent three hours or more per day caring for a child had significantly less testosterone than those dads who were less involved with their children. It’s not that men with lower testosterone were “naturally” more inclined to be caregivers in the first place; based on the voluminous longitudinal data, it’s the act of caring itself that reduced testosterone significantly.
An otherwise reasonable New York Times piece on the study begins with the somber warning, “This is probably not the news most fathers want to hear.” But as several researchers in the article point out, this is actually great news for dads—and for all men. One of our great enduring myths about males is that we are biologically hardwired for violence and promiscuity, and that any attempt to encourage us to take on a nurturing, tender role is destined to end in failure. The “Caveman Cult” crowd, which includes a great many popular writers on gender, suggests that female physiology is optimized for caregiving while male physiology is optimized for conquest. And when pressed to cite the chief factor in this supposed male inability to care for children, these defenders of traditional gender roles almost invariably cite the overarching influence of testosterone.
What this exciting new study shows is that men are far more biologically malleable than we had previously realized. Our male bodies are not obstacles to empathy or tenderness. Indeed, once we make the commitment to become active fathers to our children, it seems our hormones naturally shift to help sustain us in this all-important work of caregiving. As it turns out, the claim that women are “just built to be more nurturing” (so we might as well let them do the bulk of the nurturing and let guys off the hook) is baseless. The real truth is that we are hardwired to be adaptable, built to have seasons in our lives of both public ambition and domestic tenderness. Far from being an obstacle to our humanity, it turns out our best-known hormone is love’s surprisingly accommodating ally .
—Photo Sukanto Debnath/Flickr