Published on August 23, 2012 at 2:47 AM
Different theories have been put forward for the evolution of the menopause in humans, including the idea that it evolved to protect older women against the danger of dying during pregnancy or childbirth. However, under two per cent of the pre-industrial Finns in this study died in childbirth in their mid-40s, and such risks of dying in childbirth are similarly low in hunter-gatherers today.
Co-author Dr Andy Russell from the University of Exeter's Centre for Ecology and Conservation said: "We are so used to the fact that all women will experience menopause, that we forget it is seriously bizarre. Evolutionary theory expects animals to reproduce throughout their lifespan, and this is exactly what happens in almost every animal known, including human men. So why are women so different? Our study shows for the first time that the answer could lie in the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law."
Dr Virpi Lummaa, from the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said: "The research adds weight to the argument that menopause evolved because of the vital role that grandmothers played in rearing grandchildren in traditional societies. Although family roles have changed, many grandmothers still play a vital role in caring for their grandchildren and in western society a large number provide daycare. It is interesting that even today, mothers rarely choose to have children at the same time as their offspring: even if they have not yet been through the menopause."
Source: University of Exeter