Page URL:

Men 'caused menopause' by seeking younger women

17 June 2013
Appeared in BioNews 709

Men's preference for younger partners has led to the development of the menopause in women, according to a recently published theory in PLOS Computational Biology.

From an evolutionary perspective, it is not known why women undergo the menopause, a natural human ageing process when a drop in oestrogen levels causes the body to stop producing eggs.

Dr Rama Singh, one of the study's authors, said: 'In a sense it is like ageing, but it is different because it is an all-or-nothing process that has been accelerated because of preferential mating. Menopause is believed to be unique to humans, but no one had yet been able to offer a satisfactory explanation for why it occurs'.

Contemporary theories include the 'grandmother theory' - that the menopause is a method of preventing older women reproducing, leaving them free to help raise their grandchildren - or that it is a trade-off between fertility and longevity. However, using computer simulations, researchers from McMaster University in Canada have shown that a male preference for younger mates could have led to mutations in genes with a deleterious effect on female fertility.

Dr Singh says the 'grandmother theory' does not fit into an evolutionary model. 'How do you evolve infertility? It is contrary to the whole notion of natural selection. Natural selection selects for fertility, for reproduction — not for stopping it', he said.

'This theory says that natural selection doesn't have to do anything. If women were reproducing all along, and there were no preference against older women, women would be reproducing like men are for their whole lives', he adds.

However, some researchers believe that the authors of this new theory have got cause and consequence the wrong way round. Dr Max Burton-Chellew, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Oxford, said: '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'.

In a response to the published paper, Dr Burton-Chellew suggests that a full explanation of the menopause will require evaluation of both genetic relatedness between family members and the value of older females as grandparents. He states: 'Evolutionary 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'.

Are men's sex drives to blame for the menopause?
NHS Choices |  14 June 2013
'Cradle snatchers' cause menopause, says biologist
The Guardian |  13 June 2013
Male preference for younger female mates identified as likely cause of menopause
Eurekalert (press release) |  13 June 2013
Mate Choice and the Origin of Menopause
PLOS Computational Biology |  13 June 2013
Men Responsible For Causing Menopause In Women
Medical News Today |  14 June 2013
Men 'to blame for the menopause'
BBC News |  14 June 2013
29 September 2014 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
The rise of the single mother may seem a rather modern phenomenon. But even before the first humans walked out of Africa 70,000 years ago, mothers have consistently outnumbered fathers, DNA analysis suggests...
22 July 2013 - by Simon Hazelwood-Smith 
Perhaps we are not so different from chimps? Not so, Professor Roberts says; it is us who are experimenting on them, putting them in enclosures and making TV programmes about them...
19 November 2012 - by George Frodsham 
Genetic mutations in thousands of genes that govern our intelligence are contributing to a 'dumbing down' of humanity, as claimed in a controversial new theory...
12 November 2012 - by Joseph Jebelli 
A woman's fertility may be strongly linked to the age her mother was at menopause, according to research...
31 January 2012 - by Victoria Kay 
Thirteen genomic regions appear to influence the age at onset of menopause, according to a genetic study. These regions contain genes involved in DNA repair and immune responses, processes not previously linked to menopause...
25 October 2010 - by Victoria Kay 
New research may lead to a genetic test to identify women at risk of early menopause...
Sorry not buying it. ( - 18/06/2013)
As a woman who's been through menopause I'd like to have my say!

I think part of the problem is women as they age often lose their desire for sex. I mean... if women stop having sex around a certain age evolution would naturally interweave menopause into this.

I use to have hot flashes and loose, dry vagina. The symptoms were unbearable I couldn't have sex during menopause. It's really not a good feeling.

I would recommend kegels to any woman with similar issues:

But that's another story!

End of my 2cents :)
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.