September 9, 2019

Happy Grandparents Day. Here’s a bit of science to celebrate grandmothers.

Thanks to grandmothers and menopause, humans were able to evolve social skills and longer lives, according to a study published by Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a biological sciences journal.

In October 2012, Smithsonian.com posted an article about the study, “Increased longevity evolves from grandmothering,” that says grandmothers were pivotal to human evolution. Still baffled by why menopause exists — a life stage unique to humans a part from other female primates — anthropologists and evolutionary biologists wondered what are the benefits of women not being able to reproduce if they still had decades left to live.

“Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are,” said senior author Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, as quoted in the article.

In 1997, Hawkes proposed the “grandmother hypothesis,” which says that menopause makes it so that women are able to help raise the offspring of their offspring without worrying about getting pregnant themselves.

Grandmothers can help collect food and feed children, enabling mothers to have more children. Without grandmothers, if a mother gives birth and already has another child, the odds of that child surviving are much lower. The mother must devote her time and attention to the new infant at the expense of the older child. But grandmothers can solve this problem by acting as surrogate caregivers, thus extending the lifespans and social interactions of many offspring.

Hawkes also introduced another level to her hypothesis: Grandmas and menopause, and the resulting longer lifespans and social relations, contributed to “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills, and our tendency for cooperation.”



Read about how awesome grandparents can really get with “Grandparents Raising Grandkids – Making the ‘Grand’ Sacrifice” and “Grandparents Day” by Laura Claverie, Nola Boomers’ executive editor.

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