Pair-bonding, fatherhood, and the role of testosterone: A meta-analytic review

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Mar:98:221-233. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.01.010. Epub 2019 Jan 9.


Males of many species must allocate limited energy budgets between mating and parenting effort. The Challenge Hypothesis provides a framework for understanding these life-history trade-offs via the disparate roles of testosterone (T) in aggression, sexual behavior, and parenting. It predicts that males pursuing mating opportunities have higher T than males pursuing paternal strategies, and in humans, many studies indeed report that men who are fathers and/or pair-bonded have lower T than childless and/or unpaired men. However, the magnitude of these effects, and the influence of methodological variation on effect sizes, have not been quantitatively assessed. We meta-analyzed 114 effects from 66 published and unpublished studies covering four predictions inspired by the Challenge Hypothesis. We confirm that pair-bonded men have lower T than single men, and fathers have lower T than childless men. Furthermore, men more oriented toward pair-bonding or offspring investment had lower T. We discuss the practical meaningfulness of the effect sizes we estimate in relation to known factors (e.g., aging, geographic population) that influence men's T concentrations.

Keywords: Challenge hypothesis; Fatherhood; Life-history theory; Meta-analysis; Pair-bonding; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior / physiology
  • Fathers*
  • Humans
  • Parenting*
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology*
  • Testosterone / metabolism*


  • Testosterone