A critique of the grandmother hypotheses: old and new

Am J Hum Biol. Jul-Aug 2001;13(4):434-52. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.1076.


The singularity of reproductive senescence in human females has led many investigators to consider menopause an adaptation permitting increased maternal investment in existing progeny. Much of the focus has been on the grandmother hypothesis-the notion that aging women gain an inclusive fitness advantage from investing in their grandchildren. This hypothesis has evolved from an explanation for menopause into an explanation for the exceptionally long postreproductive lifespan in human females. In the old grandmother hypothesis, menopause is an adaptation facilitating grandmothering; it is about stopping early in order to create a postreproductive lifespan. In the new grandmother hypothesis, grandmothering is an adaptation facilitating increased longevity, and menopause is a byproduct. This paper reviews and critically evaluates the evidence for and against both hypotheses, focusing on key predictions of each. If menopause is the result of selection for increased maternal investment, this involved mainly mothers, not grandmothers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Ecology
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Gender Identity
  • Helping Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior / physiology*
  • Maternal Behavior / psychology*
  • Menopause / physiology*
  • Menopause / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Nuclear Family / psychology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Primates / physiology
  • Primates / psychology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Selection, Genetic*