Sometimes scientists wonder, what’s the point of Grandma? She’s past her childbearing years. What’s she really got to offer? I just learned this by reading this post on the NY Times health blog.
Are grandmothers an evolutionary necessity? The contributions of older women to society have long been debated by anthropologists. In the animal world, females often don’t live much past their reproductive years. But in our world, women live into their 80s and beyond — a fact that may be explained, in part, by evolutionary forces.
Or by advances in modern medicine. And nutrition. And seat belts. And…
But it’s good to think objectively about grandmothers. Otherwise, we might get all mushy and gushy thinking about how much they love the grandkids and give ’em presents and want to hug and and kiss them all the time. That would be bad.
Today many women feel marginalized once they reach menopause. But research suggests that far from being a burden to societies, grandmothers have played an important role in the evolution of human longevity. Studies of modern hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, Venezuela and Eastern Paraguay — societies that offer insights into how humans evolved — consistently show that Grandma is doing much of the work.
Go Grandma! Get in there and pull your weight! “Researchers have even measured the muscle strength of men and women in these communities and weighed the baskets and bundles carted around by them,” the post says. “Often, the scientists find, women in their 60s are as strong as women in their 20s.” Grandma’s carrying the heavy load and science says, that’s the way it should be!
The research is the basis for the grandmother hypothesis that may help explain why menopause occurs. The basic idea is that an end to a woman’s reproductive years allows her to channel her energy and resources into caring for her children and grandchildren, thereby providing her descendants with a survival advantage.
I understand that if you’re really into evolution, you may feel the need to find a survival of the genes reason for everything in the world. But can’t you leave Grandma out of it? She’s worked hard already, raising those kids of hers. Can’t she get a break and do her own thing for once? Damn, if you’re telling me that once this ride with my little ones is over I’ve got to start the real heavy lifting, I might as well pack it in right now. I say kick back Grandma! You’ve earned it.