The "Grandmother Hypothesis" Means We Should Probably Thank Our Ancient Grannies For Our Longer Life Spans And Romantic Evolution
Turns out, there's another reason to really, really love your grandmas. A recent study, which tested something called "The Grandmother Hypothesis," has postulated that the introduction of grandmothers into the nuclear family is responsible for humans developing longer life spans AND for the evolution of our romantic relationships. So, like, a whole of things. Thanks, Grams!
"The Grandmother Hypothesis" was first introduced in 1998 by Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah. Initially, Hawkes focused on the presence of grandmothers allowing women to have more babies in quick succession, by providing additional care to children who were no longer reliant on breast milk. More kids lived to adulthood, and thus it was beneficial to the human race to favor women who lived long enough to care for their children's children. Pretty cool, right? It's also fun that Hawkes' theory kind of disproves the idea that men bringing home the bacon is the reason we live longer. Just saying.
Now, in addition to her theories on human lifespan, Hawkes has some ideas about an additional benefit to grandmas bein' around: The practice of pair-bonding. As in, the whole "mate for life," emotional connection, all-great-love-stories kind of thing. Yep — you've probabyl got a few ancient grannies to thank for that.
Here's what happened, according to Hawkes: Both men and women were living longer thanks to the presence of grandmas helping to care for the young. However, women's fertility takes a steep dive around the age of 45, while men's fertility generally does not. With an abundance of older males and a smaller number of fertile women, men began to do something called "mate-guarding" — that is, paying more attention to their mates — which in turn led to humans starting to pair-bond. There's an "emotional weight" to pair bonding, says Hawkes, which is an important element for a lot of relationships we still expderience today.
Now, I know that's not quite as romantic as you were hoping, and it does kiiiiiiiind of tie back into some theories about why men continue to prefer younger women (though I'm pretty sure a whole of societal pressure plays a role there, as well). But the pairing off was not simply for offspring purposes; there were emotional attachments being formed as well. All because of grandmas.
None of this, it should be said, makes it OK for your grandma or anyone else to badger you about finding a nice mate to settle down with; despite the Grandmother Hypothesis, whether or not you "settle down" is up to you and any partners you might or might not have, and no one else. But hey, let's hear it for grandmas giving us a leg up, evolutionarily speaking; we might not be here without it. All together now: