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 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 238.

    Fertility and sexual potency decline in both male and female humans as they age. The physiology of females means that some - by no means all - have symptoms as fertility declines. Men of the same age have problems of prostrate, bladder control and sexual performance. If you happen to be one of the sufferers, I don't suppose there's much to choose between them. No one's 'fault', surely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    There is also the point that some younger women prefer older men. Women mature earlier than men & some women want maturity in the relationship. You can't fully blame men for all of Society's problems. Maybe the problem is that men mature later & this is how age preference is based.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Absolute nonsense! It's only in the last hundred years, or so, that life expectancy has exceeded the age of onset of menopause. Little point in remaining fertile for 20 years beyond your life expectancy.

    Sometimes these people get so wrapped up in their science that they ignore the obvious!

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I'm female and when I hit the menopause I won't be blaming any man for it. It's how my body works. Over a certain age pregnancy is more dangerous for the woman and baby, hence the body not doing it after a certain age. I doubt very much that my poor husband is responsible for this. What next, erectile dysfunction in older men caused by women prefering the guy on the Diet Coke advert?


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