Ever wonder how, in just three generations, American males went from G.I.s who defeated the Nazis and the Japanese Empire to whiny Pajama Boys who think Barack Obama is cool? Well, I’m just throwing this out there: maybe it has something to do with low-T. Several studies have found that contemporary western males have significantly lower testosterone levels than same-age males had roughly 30 years ago. A couple of studies first reported the secular decline in testosterone about ten years ago. One study focused on men in Massachusetts over age 45.
“Male serum testosterone levels appear to vary by generation, even after age is taken into account,” said Thomas G. Travison, Ph.D., of the New England Research Institutes (NERI) in Watertown, Mass., and lead author of the study. “In 1988, men who were 50 years old had higher serum testosterone concentrations than did comparable 50-year-old men in 1996. This suggests that some factor other than age may be contributing to the observed declines in testosterone over time.”
For men 65-69 years of age in this study, average total testosterone levels fell from 503 ng/dL (nanograms/deciliter) in 1988 to 423 ng/dL in 2003.
Another study published the same year found similar results for men in Denmark. But that was 10 years ago, and I was wondering if any follow-up studies had been done since then. All I managed to find was a 2012 study from Finland. This study also found a secular decline in testosterone.
We analysed serum levels of testosterone, gonadotrophin and sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) in 3271 men representing different ages (25–74 years) and birth cohorts within three large Finnish population surveys conducted in 1972, 1977 and 2002…The more recently born Finnish men have lower testosterone levels than their earlier born peers.
Notably, the fall in T-levels cannot be fully explained by changes in health or lifestyle such as obesity or smoking. Some other environmental factors must be responsible, but nobody knows which. Speculation involves a wide range of possibilities, everything from endocrine disruptors in plastics to tight underwear!
Whatever the cause, I wonder if this change in hormone levels has implications for male behavior and social outcomes. For instance, could low-T have an effect on marriage or divorce rates? And what about birth rates? (There is some mixed evidence suggesting that sperm also has declined in both quality and quantity.)
Right now, violent crime rates in America are at their lowest level in about 50 years. Could the drop in violent crime be caused at least in part by diminished male aggression due to lower testosterone?
Low T might offer some benefits, like maybe lower crime rates, but the fact that some unknown factor is adversely affecting men’s health is nonetheless disturbing. And yet, nobody seems to care. As far as I know, there is no concern among advocacy groups or public health officials regarding the problem of secularly declining testosterone. Some endocrinologists have an academic interest in the issue, but it does not show up on the radar screen of people working in public health.
Imagine, however, if the sexes were reversed, and it were women instead of men who had exhibited a long-term decline in hormone levels. In that case, it would be a genuine public health crisis. We would all know about the problem, and the subject would be discussed endlessly on The View.
But when it happens to men: crickets. Men take note: Society does not care about you.