Thank Grandma for a Longer Lifespan

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: December 10, 2012

Most primates die relatively early in life, typically around the time they stop being fertile. Science has recently explained why this isn’t necessarily true for the human female, who continues to live long after she’s gone through menopause.

A human evolutionary adaption, referred to as the “Grandmother Hypothesis” shows that the childcare given from a grandmother actually helps humans to succeed and live longer. More specifically, those human females, unlike those of other primates, survive well past their reproductive prime because of the benefits that post-menopausal women offer to their grandchildren. There seems to be an evolutionary advantage to having an older relative around to help mother’s care for their offspring. So you may just want to thank Grammy, Nanny, Nana, and Bubba for your longevity!

A study published October 24, 2012 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal, led by Kristen Hawkes, found that in a computer simulation of a population of chimpanzees the contribution of grandmothers in caring for infants and children increased the average lifespan by almost 25 years. The findings ultimately support the ‘grandmother hypothesis’, which attempts to explain why humans survive long after their childbearing years have passed, a quality which is somewhat unique to humans. It concluded that grandmothers took on the duty of caring for their grandchildren, allowing their own children to have more offspring. It also showed that by living long enough to be a grandmother everyone would benefit from this genetic advantage, allowing longevity to spread through natural selection.

We may need Grandma’s genes for survival but we also need her ideas, knowledge and customs that she has to give to our family. The next time Grandma asks if you “are feeding that child of yours enough?” understand she may in fact be concerned for the human species. You may also want to remind Grandma from time to time that it is her evolutionary duty to babysit!

More information
The Enigmatic Evolution of Menopause
Take Charge of Your Menopause