8

votes

Do you think there is an evolutionary advantage to Menopause?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created October 26, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Some scientists who studied the Hadza think that Grandmothers may have made our widening exploration of the world possible:

http://www.nytimes.com/specials/women/warchive/970916_2115.html

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 01:23 PM

If you are interested in this concept there has been quite a bit written about it. For example: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v428/n6979/abs/nature02367.html Or this: http://www.radicalanthropologygroup.org/old/class_text_002.pdf "Developments'in evolutionary life-history theory suggest' that, instead of help for older members of the population, it is help from post-menopausal grandmothers that accounts for the age structures of human societies"

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 01:11 PM

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating that there is some kind of huge evolutionary advantage at play here. I just take exception to your implied statement that if something happens after reproduction, a fortiari it cannot confer an evolutionary advantage.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 01:04 PM

It's not a matter of can they do it. It is a matter of whether one group would have an advantage. Late term pregnancy is physically limiting and caring for infants requires constant vigilance, especially in the wild. A new born zebra can stand and walk within 15 minutes of being born. A human requires constant care and protection for years. Having multiple woman available to care for a young child provides an evolutionary advantage in that it increases the likelihood of that child's survival. There's no potential for multiple care givers if every women must focus on her own kid.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 12:52 PM

You must not have kids.

166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

(8)

on March 14, 2013
at 11:17 PM

@Todd, why is it harder to look after other folk's children when you have your own. The grandmothers back in the day would look after many children, what difference does 4 or 5 more make? Hardly any.

166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

(8)

on March 14, 2013
at 11:15 PM

@Todd, but why do you need to take care of other folk's children when you have your own. Your own genes are more likely to be passed on when you have lots of your own children, then when you are caring for the children of others, with different genes.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 14, 2013
at 05:43 PM

Because early humans didn't have birth control. Kind of hard to take care of other folk's children when you have a bunch of your own.

166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

(8)

on March 14, 2013
at 01:51 PM

Excuse me? Why is menopause necessary to care for grandkids?

68655ec9711d207d69a63ebf96b37573

on March 14, 2013
at 01:15 PM

Humans are social animals, and altruistic social animals at that. Menopause allows women to not undergo late in life pregnancies that might kill them, leaving them alive to help rear their existing kids - who carry 50% of their DNA, and their grandkids - who carry 25% of their DNA. It also means a big reduction in non-viable pregnancies/fetuses. Not all mammals go through menopause - it exists for a reason!

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 14, 2013
at 01:12 PM

Humans are not frogs or spiders. Humanity's survival was not a numbers game that dependeded on spawning hundreds of offspring like a spider. A trait that increases the likelihood of survival of offspring (even if it does not increase the likelihood of an organism reproducing) absolutely has an evolutionary advantage. To the extent menopause led older women to care for the rest of the social group and such care contributed to an increase in offspring survival, such a trait could certainly provide an evolutionary advantage over groups that did not have such contributions from elders.

Bfddc0ab925c8ea0e0c2e87198514907

on March 14, 2013
at 12:12 PM

This assumes that only traits which affect the individual alone, rather than the group ate selected for. As a tribal animal, I doubt very much that this is the case.

03a4ec34751186201a56da298ac843ce

(4100)

on June 24, 2012
at 06:00 AM

Very interesting. Thanks for [email protected]

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on October 27, 2011
at 01:29 AM

Rose, I don't know enough about it to comment. That said, with something as intimately connected to reproduction as menopause, I don't think it can be accidental.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on October 26, 2011
at 11:43 PM

Interesting answer, Jay. So you don't think there are such things as evolutionary "spandrels," along the lines of Steven Pinker's definition of music as "mental cheesecake"? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology)

Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

(32556)

on October 26, 2011
at 04:29 PM

Nice one, Rose!

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on October 26, 2011
at 04:12 PM

Interesting question! In elephants, the matriarchs are critical to group survival. Here's one possible reason: http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2001/04/19-02.html

  • Ce41c230e8c2a4295db31aec3ef4b2ab

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10 Answers

best answer

5
66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on October 26, 2011
at 09:45 PM

Perhaps its advantageous when a woman goes through menopause she can now focus her considerable talents & energy on caring for / contributing to the tribe more instead of on only one child(ren). I know my grandmother raised a great family of kids then went on to care for and guide everyone (extended family) for almost 40 years, she shared her knowledge, patience and wisdom, much of which was garnered through raising her kids.

4
220994a1bcff1923ef0388192bdba8d4

on October 26, 2011
at 10:00 PM

If you are interested in this, I suggest you read Wenda Trevathan's Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution has Shaped Women's Health. There is an entire chapter on the evolutionary advantages of menopause. Definitely check it out.

3
680c58750b41f8655ab211b22daa2436

on October 26, 2011
at 10:16 PM

i think the evolutionary advantage is that the eggs become less viable as a woman ages, and menopause is nature's way of easing a woman off of her menses--and the hormones that go along with fertility--so that she can no longer have babies with those potentially compromised eggs.

menopause is just a symptom of the underlying hormonal changes.

2
4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on October 26, 2011
at 10:08 PM

Yes, I can't think of any evolved traits that aren't advantageous, at least for humans living in their evolutionary niche.

The best known explanation is the grandmother hypothesis, which you seem to have found out yourself.

4781cf8ae1bfcb558dfb056af17bea94

(4359)

on October 27, 2011
at 01:29 AM

Rose, I don't know enough about it to comment. That said, with something as intimately connected to reproduction as menopause, I don't think it can be accidental.

3aea514b680d01bfd7573d74517946a7

(11996)

on October 26, 2011
at 11:43 PM

Interesting answer, Jay. So you don't think there are such things as evolutionary "spandrels," along the lines of Steven Pinker's definition of music as "mental cheesecake"? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spandrel_(biology)

1
62442eec80b7d248ccfa08f98f736748

on March 14, 2013
at 04:13 AM

Early menopause means less lifetime estrogens exposure. Dec risk for endometrial breast and arguably ovarian cancers

0
3561a93ef0b3146ba0ecd66bd0702ada

on October 24, 2013
at 04:01 AM

Menopausal women are compelled to drive men away. Nature hates wasted sperm.

0
3561a93ef0b3146ba0ecd66bd0702ada

on October 24, 2013
at 04:00 AM

A menopausal woman is compelled to drive her man away. Nature hates wasted sperm.

0
Bfddc0ab925c8ea0e0c2e87198514907

on March 14, 2013
at 12:10 PM

Babysitting, surely! So the younger, fitter females can do more gathering, or even hunting.

0
77877f762c40637911396daa19b53094

(78467)

on October 27, 2011
at 01:34 AM

My understanding is that it's advantage is that it leads to death.

-1
166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

on March 14, 2013
at 12:49 AM

There is no evolutionary advantage to menopause.

Evolutionary advantages are advantages that allow a species to live to the age of reproduction, and increase the likelihood of that organism reproducing. Those species with the advantages consequently reproduce more than those without.

Biological traits that occur beyond reproduction age cannot be affected by evolution. This is why we haven't evolved to withstand heart disease, dementia and other age related diseases.

Menopause cannot increase the likelihood of an organism reproducing, and therefore is not the result of an evolutionary advantage. Prolonging menopause does have an evolutionary advantage, and I suspect that the age of menopause consequently has been increasing over time.

edit: There may be advantages to early menopause, but these benefits don't increase the chances of passing then down to off-spring because the benefits occur after reproduction age. Therefore these benefits don't contribute to the evolution of the species.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 14, 2013
at 05:43 PM

Because early humans didn't have birth control. Kind of hard to take care of other folk's children when you have a bunch of your own.

166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

(8)

on March 14, 2013
at 01:51 PM

Excuse me? Why is menopause necessary to care for grandkids?

166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

(8)

on March 14, 2013
at 11:15 PM

@Todd, but why do you need to take care of other folk's children when you have your own. Your own genes are more likely to be passed on when you have lots of your own children, then when you are caring for the children of others, with different genes.

68655ec9711d207d69a63ebf96b37573

on March 14, 2013
at 01:15 PM

Humans are social animals, and altruistic social animals at that. Menopause allows women to not undergo late in life pregnancies that might kill them, leaving them alive to help rear their existing kids - who carry 50% of their DNA, and their grandkids - who carry 25% of their DNA. It also means a big reduction in non-viable pregnancies/fetuses. Not all mammals go through menopause - it exists for a reason!

166093d036b7185b3a53052889d99e47

(8)

on March 14, 2013
at 11:17 PM

@Todd, why is it harder to look after other folk's children when you have your own. The grandmothers back in the day would look after many children, what difference does 4 or 5 more make? Hardly any.

Bfddc0ab925c8ea0e0c2e87198514907

on March 14, 2013
at 12:12 PM

This assumes that only traits which affect the individual alone, rather than the group ate selected for. As a tribal animal, I doubt very much that this is the case.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 14, 2013
at 01:12 PM

Humans are not frogs or spiders. Humanity's survival was not a numbers game that dependeded on spawning hundreds of offspring like a spider. A trait that increases the likelihood of survival of offspring (even if it does not increase the likelihood of an organism reproducing) absolutely has an evolutionary advantage. To the extent menopause led older women to care for the rest of the social group and such care contributed to an increase in offspring survival, such a trait could certainly provide an evolutionary advantage over groups that did not have such contributions from elders.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 01:23 PM

If you are interested in this concept there has been quite a bit written about it. For example: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v428/n6979/abs/nature02367.html Or this: http://www.radicalanthropologygroup.org/old/class_text_002.pdf "Developments'in evolutionary life-history theory suggest' that, instead of help for older members of the population, it is help from post-menopausal grandmothers that accounts for the age structures of human societies"

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 01:11 PM

Just to be clear, I'm not advocating that there is some kind of huge evolutionary advantage at play here. I just take exception to your implied statement that if something happens after reproduction, a fortiari it cannot confer an evolutionary advantage.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 12:52 PM

You must not have kids.

Baa413654789b57f3579474ca7fa43d7

(2349)

on March 15, 2013
at 01:04 PM

It's not a matter of can they do it. It is a matter of whether one group would have an advantage. Late term pregnancy is physically limiting and caring for infants requires constant vigilance, especially in the wild. A new born zebra can stand and walk within 15 minutes of being born. A human requires constant care and protection for years. Having multiple woman available to care for a young child provides an evolutionary advantage in that it increases the likelihood of that child's survival. There's no potential for multiple care givers if every women must focus on her own kid.

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