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How Fatherhood Changes You: You Get Older and Sicker, But It Works Out Okay

June 16th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  3 Comments

Christopher is Mimi from La Boheme, apparently in drag

Christopher is Mimi from La Bohème, in drag?

According to Kermyt Anderson and Peter Gray’s new book Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior (a snappy little read from Harvard University Press), moms aren’t the only ones whose hormones go a little haywire during the early days of being a parent. Dads experience weird (though much milder) fluctuations, too. Among other things, our testosterone levels drop, and our oxytocin levels go up. But I learned something more interesting from the authors in this interview:

In the short term, the lack of sleep and exposure to every new germ on the playground worsens men’s health, but in the long term, fathers seem to live longer, healthier lives than non-fathers.

This, frankly, is unexpected.  We know married men live longer (you’ve heard the old joke: “It just seems longer”) than singles, but shouldn’t the stressors of being a parent–and the associated unhappiness–cut into lifespan? And what about the mild depression that sometimes hits in new-parenthood? Depression is strongly associated with shorter lifespan; apparently it just… stops, at some point, and everyone goes back to being happy and long-lived. Unless they’re simply counting more hours awake as a longer life, in which case my wife and I have just added years to our earthly existence.

As for that temporary dip in one’s health, that, at least, is no surprise at all. I took more sick days this year than in the preceding decade, and cannot believe the foul diseases that came home with me from daycare. Not that my son got sick; that place must be the best immune-booster in New York City. But me, I was coughing like Mimi in the last act of La Bohème for a couple of months there.


  1. James says:

    June 16th, 2010at 1:05 pm(#)

    So we suffer through the short term to make it later in the game? I can live with that

  2. JasonS says:

    June 16th, 2010at 7:15 pm(#)

    I would suspect (just guessung, really) it has a lot to do with having a broader support network in old age. Not so much with the direct effects of raising kids but of having grown children when you are in you twilight years.

    Also, on the subject of it just seeming that married men live longer – married women actually live shorter lives than unmarried women. I suspect that husbands are basically just vampires, extending their own lives at the expense of their spouse’s. With enough wives, the husband’s lifespan might be extended indefinitely . . .

  3. beta dad says:

    June 16th, 2010at 11:54 pm(#)

    I emailed The Explainer on Slate a couple months ago asking what impact having children has on longevity. I had scoured the Google for almost fifteen minutes but had come up dry. I guess The Explainer was stumped too, because I never heard back.

    Well, now we have at least a tentative answer.

    If there truly is a positive correlation between crotchfruit and male longevity, I’m sure it’s due to the decreased likelihood that fathers will get in knife fights and hang-gliding accidents compared to male non-fathers.

    I wonder how kids affect female life expectancy. Probably adversely.

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