Another take on why babies and careers don’t go together for women

It’s simple, really.  Stress causes one to become androgyous, simultaneously reducing one’s ability to reproduce and others’ motives to impregnate one.

Professor Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah found that the stress of high-powered jobs causes a hormonal shift in women, resulting in the female hormone oestrogen to be replaced by androgens – a group of hormones that includes the male hormone testosterone linked with strength and competitiveness. …

Her study, which was published in the journal Current Anthroplogy, found that a woman’s waist-to-hip ratio was related to the balance of hormones, thus affecting their fertility.

The presence of androgens resulted in a smaller waist-to-hip ratio, which, Professor Cashdan says, is less conducive to childbearing, and could even affect appeal to the opposite sex.

‘Although the hormonal profile associated with a high waist-to-hip ratio may favour success in some stressful and difficult circumstances where women must work hard, there are well-known costs,’ she said.

‘Women may suffer lower fertility and possibly lower attractiveness to men who may have an innate preference for curviness.’

It isn’t clear that the article is particularly consistent in its us of “high” and “low” ratios, but there’s more to be added into the mix:

Dr Martin Tovee of the University of Newcastle believes the Utah study backs up earlier findings. ‘We know that if women over-exercise or diet obsessively, then their oestrogen levels drop and they become less fertile,’ he said. ‘So, potentially, working hard could affect fertility too.’Dr Martin Tovee of the University of Newcastle believes the Utah study backs up earlier findings. ‘We know that if women over-exercise or diet obsessively, then their oestrogen levels drop and they become less fertile,’ he said. ‘So, potentially, working hard could affect fertility too.’

Having a career is like being an annorexic.  And why would anyone choose that over the stress free life of having a lot of children?  Go figure!

19 thoughts on “Another take on why babies and careers don’t go together for women

  1. I trigger on the word “resulted” in there. I am pretty sure this is not in the original article. It seems to say here there’s a causal chain:
    * high stress + high power
    leads to
    * increase of androgens
    leads to
    * increased waist-to-hip ratio
    and that may lead to all kinds of devastating things like decrease attractiveness and less chance of offspring.

    Then in the mail online it contrasts Marilyn Monroe’s figure to that of Keira Knightley’s. Which is of course rather preposterous in THIS light. Your basic build doesn’t alter when you enter a high power and high stress job!
    It is also possible that women with higher levels of androgens are not only more likely to pick such a job, but are also more likely to get picked for such jobs.

    Furthermore, I can think of a very obvious other thing that changes your waist-to-hip ratio that is not quite related to androgens, namely copious company dinners and no time to exercise.

    I wonder if professor Cashdan actually intended to say what the mail online made of it.

  2. I like how these women “suffer” from lower attractiveness to men. I’m just waiting for big pharma to come out with a drug to treat that.

  3. wow. i don’t want to damage my ability to procreate, so i better stay home with my screaming 3-year-old, so as to avoid being stressed! what was i thinking entering the workforce?

  4. Clever, elp, that’s just the message.
    O, and motherhood can’t ever be that stressful. Maybe you should be on vallium? Let me get a list of the drug companies…

  5. Not while she’s pregnant, JJ! Unless she wants to be a horrible selfish neglecter of the unborn, she’d better just stop thinking about her own needs.

  6. Imagine the parallel (well-verified) story about men: high stress levels, often accompanying high-powered jobs, lead to high levels of cortisol in the blood, which directly contributes to gaining weight in the abdomen. This is the worst kind of fat for the heart, and there are higher rates of heart disease, strokes, and some kinds of cancer among men in these types of jobs. The stress may also lead to higher rates of impotency.

    One can’t imagine this story causing anyone to think: oh dear, men shouldn’t be in high-powered jobs because they can’t handle it! Nor would we think that high-powered jobs reduce a man’s masculinity by making him pudgy and stressed out and less interested in sex. Rather, we would think the work world needs to change because it’s too stressful and unhealthy for workers. But because women are defined by their fertility, and ambitious work is seen as an option women are self-indulgent for choosing, the implication is that a good woman will opt out of a high-powered career. It doesn’t actually say that in the article, but the mere fact that they reported the data on women without saying a word about the numerous studies that have been done on the health effects of stressful jobs for men, is a sign that the motivation here was not entirely innocent.

  7. amy: “But because women are defined by their fertility, and ambitious work is seen as an option women are self-indulgent for choosing, the implication is that a good woman will opt out of a high-powered career.” perfectly put. and i think “good” is especially apt. because it’s *so* a *moral* judgment that’s being handed down, isn’t it.

    jender and jj: clearly i need to stop being a horrible selfish neglecter of *both* the unborn and the born. i’m thinking lobotomy.

  8. elp: you just need to be the perfect, rule-following mother. And do not think for yourself.

    Maybe a lobotomy is a good idea.

  9. Last month my blood analyses showed that I am in premature menopauze (at age 33). This is hard news, since we were trying to get pregnant.

    Yesterday my (lady) doctor found it necessary to share with me that recent research shows the scientific explanation is “being too ambitious and working too much”.

    Yes, it’s true. I did care about my job…

    …now I’m pretty much shattered to pieces…

  10. sq, you might think of finding another doctor.

    have you done any serious research about this? I used the web of science, and an article there suggests you can still get pregnant while having premature menopause. The journal looks reputable. Here’s some info:

    Author(s): Check JH (Check, J. H.)1
    Source: CLINICAL AND EXPERIMENTAL OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY Volume: 36 Issue: 2 Pages: 70-73 Published: 2009
    Times Cited: 0 References: 29 Citation Map
    Abstract: Purpose: To provide the concept and details of the methodology of inducing ovulation in women in apparent menopause. Methods: A recent case is discussed and other previous publications described illustrating how to induce ovulation and achieve pregnancies despite what appears to be menopause. The various methods of lowering serum follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and restoring down-regulated FSH receptors in granulosa theca cells of the follicle are described. Results: The newly reported case had two successful pregnancies after having a trisomy 15 in her first pregnancy. Conclusions: Women aged 42 and younger in apparent menopause have a reasonably good chance of ovulation induction and pregnancy by adhering to the tenets discussed, especially including lowering the elevated FSH in some way (the easiest and cheapest with ethinyl estradiol), using minimal or no gonadotropins, and supporting the luteal phase with progesterone.

  11. sg, *definitely* get a new dr. i once went to my gynecologist (as one does in the US) to get a diaphragm. in fitting me, she made reference to ‘my husband’ and i told her i wasn’t married. she then told me that i was so small that no diaphragm could fit. i saw someone else, who told me i was average size. when you’ve got a dr with an agenda, you can’t trust them.

  12. sg, Jender: I have a similar diaphram story, but it is possibly worse. I went to a high powered NYC specialist at, I think, Cornel-Weill Med School. He told me that I had a tipped uterus and that there weren’t any diaphrams for tipped uteruses. That is flat out false, I discovered. I’ve forgotten what I did to ‘deserve’ this treatment, but no doubt I expressed some anxiety or other about the exam.

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