From Gettler et al.:
Testosterone influences how animals devote energy and time toward reproduction, including opposing demands of mating and competition versus parenting. Reflecting this, testosterone often declines in new fathers and lower testosterone is linked to greater caregiving. Given these roles, there is strong interest in factors that affect testosterone, including early-life experiences. In this multidecade study, Filipino sons whose fathers were present and involved with raising them when they were adolescents had lower testosterone when they later became fathers, compared to sons whose fathers were present but uninvolved or were not coresident. Sons’ own parenting behaviors did not explain these patterns. These results connect key social experiences during adolescence to adult testosterone, and point to possible intergenerational effects of parenting style.Abstract
Across vertebrates, testosterone is an important mediator of reproductive trade-offs, shaping how energy and time are devoted to parenting versus mating/competition. Based on early environments, organisms often calibrate adult hormone production to adjust reproductive strategies. For example, favorable early nutrition predicts higher adult male testosterone in humans, and animal models show that developmental social environments can affect adult testosterone. In humans, fathers’ testosterone often declines with caregiving, yet these patterns vary within and across populations. This may partially trace to early social environments, including caregiving styles and family relationships, which could have formative effects on testosterone production and parenting behaviors. Using data from a multidecade study in the Philippines (n = 966), we tested whether sons’ developmental experiences with their fathers predicted their adult testosterone profiles, including after they became fathers themselves. Sons had lower testosterone as parents if their own fathers lived with them and were involved in childcare during adolescence. We also found a contributing role for adolescent father–son relationships: sons had lower waking testosterone, before and after becoming fathers, if they credited their own fathers with their upbringing and resided with them as adolescents. These findings were not accounted for by the sons’ own parenting and partnering behaviors, which could influence their testosterone. These effects were limited to adolescence: sons’ infancy or childhood experiences did not predict their testosterone as fathers. Our findings link adolescent family experiences to adult testosterone, pointing to a potential pathway related to the intergenerational transmission of biological and behavioral components of reproductive strategies.