Men 'to blame for the menopause'

Older and younger women Younger women 'chosen over older ones'

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Hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings - menopause and its side effects can all be blamed on men, experts suggest.

Evolutionary geneticists from Canada's McMaster University say men's tendency to choose younger mates meant fertility became pointless for older women.

In PLOS Computational Biology, they say this eventually led to the menopause.

But a UK expert said that was the "wrong way round" and men chose younger women because older women were less fertile.

'Preferential mating'

Researchers have long been puzzled as to why it appears that human are the only species where females cannot reproduce throughout their lives.

Previous theories had proposed a "grandmother effect". This suggests that women lose their fertility at an age where they might not live to see a child grow, and instead are available to care for younger women's children.

The menopause was therefore seen as the block to older women from continuing to reproduce.

Start Quote

I think it makes more sense to see the human male preference for younger females largely as an evolved response to the menopause”

End Quote Dr Maxwell Burton-Chellew University of Oxford

But this latest theory suggests things work the other way around, and that it is the lack of reproduction that has given rise to menopause.

Using computer modelling, the team from McMaster's concluded "preferential mating" was the evolutionary answer - men of all ages choosing younger women as partners.

That meant there was "no purpose" in older women continuing to be fertile.

Prof Rama Singh, an evolutionary geneticist who led the study, said men choosing younger mates were "stacking the odds" against continued fertility.

He told the BBC: "There is evidence in human history; there was always a preference for younger women."

Prof Singh stressed they were looking at human development many thousands of years ago - rather than current social patterns,

'Evolved response'

In the UK, the average age for women to go through the menopause is now 52 even though the average woman goes on to live for another 30 years.

Prof Singh said this extended longevity - plus later childbirth - could potentially alter the timing of the menopause, over a significant period of time.

"The social system is changing. There are women who are starting families later, because of education or a career."

He suggested this trend would mean those women would have a later menopause, and those genes would be passed on to their daughters "with the possibility of menopausal age being delayed".

However Dr Maxwell Burton-Chellew, an evolutionary biologist in the department of zoology at the University of Oxford, challenged the theory.

"The authors argue that the menopause exists in humans because males have a strong preference for younger females.

"However, this is probably the wrong way round - the human male preference for younger females is likely to be because older females are less fertile.

"I think it makes more sense to see the human male preference for younger females largely as an evolved response to the menopause, and to assume that ancestral males would have been wise to mate with any females that could produce offspring."

He added: "Evolutionarily-speaking, older females faced an interesting 'choice': have a child that may not reach adulthood before your own death, or stop reproducing and instead focus on helping your younger relatives reproduce."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 486.

    The argument is flawed in logic. If it depended on men seeking young partners then there is no evolutionary pressure for or against menopause as men and nature wouldn't care what women did after 50. What he is suggesting is pure Lamarkism - male choice forcing a gene change. Dawkins would call it heresy and have him burned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 485.

    Poppycock, both sides.The scientific community is too overwhelmingly male to accurately assess the hormonal life cycle of women, its variations & vicissitudes & what drives it.You have to be inside a female's body to get an inkling (if you pay attention); enlightenment arrives with advancing age.Pituitary regulates hormones; adrenals key.Stress, fatigue, health prospects, motivation self-regulate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 484.

    @ kitthehammer The article is silly and as someone else said already, i think BBC is doing it on purpose to anger men.
    Sorry to hear about what happened to you. The irony is such matters is that many men believe that men should be working and women should be taking care of the kids and then they complain that after a divorce she takes them. It's not about gender but about who is the main carer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 483.

    "Seeing some comments here like 'trading a wife for a younger one'."

    But women say and do the same; trading in your male for upward mobility. However, it isn't highlighted by our culture as reprehensible, rather it is called grrl power and considered positive and liberating

    Behavior and attitudes that are seen as negative and seedy for men are seen as liberating and positive for women.

  • rate this

    Comment number 482.

    Who are these so called experts! Have they got nothing better to do with their time. Nature is nature is nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 481.

    @470. Paul "I made only one arguably disrespectful generalisation about the motivations of women"

    Denial, rationalisation and a bit of confabulation to boot, regarding the amount of times you've implied that most women are only interested men for their money.

    Grow up Mr Men's Rights champion.

  • Comment number 480.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 479.

    I went through the menopause at 30, this was caused by nature, not by men.

  • rate this

    Comment number 478.

    Most academic publications that emanate from Canada tend to be misandric in nature as these are the only publications that can attract funding. Feminist propaganda of this type is prevalent throughout Canada's fields of research, teaching, academia etc and should be treated with the contempt that it rightly deserves. It's quite simply misandry masquerading as genuine academic research.

  • Comment number 477.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 476.

    Hell to go through but great to come out of. Chinese medicine gets you through it quicker and easier so ask your local Chinese doctor ladies it works really well.

    The wonderful final effect of menopause is the change of mind that I certainly experienced which gave me a sense of "wisdom" of understanding things more clearly, depth and acceptance, very calming grandmother feel.

  • rate this

    Comment number 475.

    I agree wholeheartedly, as an ardent feminist myself, as well as being a hetrosexual man approaching middle-age, i very much approve of such findings. More sensitivity, patience and understanding is required from the male of the species.

  • rate this

    Comment number 474.

    Re ParalyZzZer

    Ok so i'm 44, my ex has taken my son against my wishes to the czech republic, stripped me of all of my money because i spent it all in the last 4 years trying to be in his life and now she is totally denying me any contact with him. So i should be denied being a father by her, money and the sexist court system and now my age should i? So this and now the menopause is my fault lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 473.

    Seeing some comments here like 'trading a wife for a younger one' i wonder if the men that leave these comments are dead inside.
    Actually you don't need a 'fertile wife', you don't need to have many children and drop the pseudo macho attitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 472.

    I wish I knew which of the McMasters is about to trade in his wife for a younger model.

  • rate this

    Comment number 471.

    Poor men seemed to get blamed for all female woes! Seriously though, thousands of years ago , life expectancy was maybe 50 years or so, making women able to produce children up to death, so it is only that we are living longer surely that is the reason why women are infertile after their 50's. Perhaps these researchers should get their noses out of their textbooks!

  • rate this

    Comment number 470.

    Plath wrote:
    "You write silly, spiteful generalisations about women every post you make."

    Nonsense. I made only one arguably disrespectful generalisation about the motivations of women and yet the entire article we are discussing is a similarly disrespectful generalisation about men. Funny how you pick your targets

  • rate this

    Comment number 469.

    Maybe its natures version of the carousel from Logan's Run. Like a red lifeclock in the palm of her hand, when a woman's eggs run out, its time for her to be 'renewed'. Trading in a menopausal wife for a fertile Jessica 6 does carry a certain appeal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 468.

    Older men shouldn't become fathers either. There are many health complications for the baby if the father is old including asthma, autism even miscarriage. Let's face it, after 40 we both decline.
    This whole thing about men wanting to procreate at later age is just plain selfish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 467.

    Actually it's the last labour government's fault. having stuffed the economy all grandmas are now unpaid child minders so their daughters can go out to work. so let's lay the blame squarely where it belongs, on Gordon Brown


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