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On Gender Equality in Parenting, Fatherhood and Human Paternal Behavior

On Gender Equality in Parenting, Fatherhood and Human Paternal Behavior

“In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.”

―Nicholas D. Kristof

In comparison to the amount of research, the number of studies, and the number of books written about motherhood, relatively little has been written about fatherhood. To help remedy that disparity, have made some social observations of their own and present their findings in their 2012 book “Fatherhood: Evolution and Human Paternal Behavior“.

Gray, who earned his PhD in Biological Anthropology at Harvard, is currently a faculty member of the University of Nevada. Mr. Anderson, with a Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Oklahoma. He is also a contributor to The Evolving Father, a popular blog associated with Psychology Today online magazine. Perhaps equally important, both are fathers themselves.

Cultural Influences

In addition to their personal experiences as fathers, their research included studying fatherhood in hunter-gatherer societies as well in several different modern industrialized societies. In the U.S. they conducted studies of fathers in Boston and Albuquerque. These findings were compared to studies conducted in Capetown, South Africa and Jamaica. The results were interpreted using a combination of tools from various social sciences including biology, neural physiology, anthropology and psychology.

One of the most unique aspects of the book is that it studies fatherhood in all of its many forms. The perspectives of fathers who parent long distance, gay fathers, stepfathers, unmarried and married fathers are all represented. A review of the book says that its authors make a sound scientific case that males, rather than merely being providers, have also been shaped by evolution to care for their offspring. The book presents evidence from a number of sources that unlike other species, the human male possesses the emotional and physiological capability to effectively nurture and parent their young.


Several chapters are devoted to the topics of paternity certainty and the behavioral and motivational differences between biological fathers and stepfathers. One chapter is devoted to male fertility, about which little is known compared to the amount of information widely available about female fertility. Another chapter discusses the long-term effects of marriage and parenthood on male health.

Biology reveals that fatherhood affects male hormones in much the same way that motherhood affects female hormones. Those hormonal changes result in changes in the neural pathways in the parts of the brain that control sexuality, reducing desires that may interfere with child care. One of those changes is the production of prolactin. Evidence shows that fathers have higher levels of this hormone, which is known to stimulate nurturing behaviors.

These biological facts support the authors’ assertion that these evolutionary developments suggest that fatherhood is more important to human survival as a species than is reflected by the current social structures of many societies. Many existing social structures minimize the importance of the role of fathers in children’s lives. Through the use of cross-cultural studies, the authors are able to successfully illustrate the extent to which cultural institutions influence both the biology and behaviors of fathers and shape social ideals of fatherhood.

The Future of Parenting And Fatherhood

In an interview, Mr. Gray points out that the lower testosterone levels are an example of a measurable way in which male biology is changed by fatherhood. He asserts that the reason for the biological change is that child care requires less aggressive behavior than competing with other males during the courtship process. Regarding the division of labor in which men went to work and women stayed home and raised the children, he said that such a social model

“does not apply well to an evolutionary backdrop. Among hunter-gatherers, women and men are both working but in ways compatible with having young kids.”

Women have long struggled with the difficulties of becoming all they can be while bearing the majority of responsibility for child care. This book points out that in a very real sense, the artificial construct of the division of labor has also kept men from being all that they can be. Both men and women would benefit from a more equal role in raising children, but according to all the latest scientific data, it is children who would benefit most.

Editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape (1871)
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