Ever since the phrase “dad bod” entered our pop vocabulary, people have been arguing about dad bods. Did women like the pudgy, beer-and-pizza physique? Did they secretly hate taking pictures with their ripped boyfriends? Was everything we knew about women’s love for a great physique wrong?
We’ve debated as much. (Spoiler alert: Keep hitting the gym.) But rather than argue over whether dad bods are okay because they’re kinda sexy, a new book is taking a slightly different tack: that dad bods are good for raising kids.
In How Men Age: What Evolution Reveals about Male Health and Mortality, Yale anthropology professor Richard G. Bribiescas, Ph.D., argues that many aging signs that guys work so hard to avoid—like decreased testosterone, lower muscle mass, increases in body fat—are actually positive. In fact, Bribiescas writes, the “dad bod” complex probably helps make men into better fathers.
Why? Evolution. Take the testosterone question. As you probably already know, young dudes are supremely good at finding ways to put our lives at risk. (Just ask the Jackass cast, or this guy who folded himself in half under a 315-lb barbell.) That works if you’re trying to hunt mastodons or chase skirts at your local caveman dive bar. But when you hang up the axe, find the lady you like, and get ready to raise a family, throttling down on that testosterone—and focusing on your kids more—is likely to pay off for your partner and kids. A Notre Dame study found that when older dudes have lower testosterone, they also tend to maintain stronger relationships with their family, friends, and bowling buddies from the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo.
In other words: Even as a guy’s testosterone levels drop, it may help him be a more caring, engaging dad—one more likely to go to Little League games without wanting to punch out the umpire. Combine that with a longer lifespan and a better immune system—and, say, a beard—and you’ve got a combo that actually looks pretty good to a woman focused on finding a guy who will take care of her kids.
“Declines in testosterone may have behavioral, immunological, or metabolic effects that promote paternal investment,” Bribiescas said in a Q&A with the book’s publisher. “This suggests that paternal engagement is important to any changes in testosterone. Caring and engagement makes a difference.”
And it’s not just lower testosterone that makes the dad bod more palatable to moms. Guys with ultra-low levels of body fat get sick more often, among other negative effects. On the other hand, men with more fat tend to have better immune systems, and men with slow metabolisms are less likely to die in any given year than their skinnier counterparts, Bribiescas writes.
That’s not to say lower testosterone or high body fat is objectively good. Bribiescas emphasizes that he’s talking about mildly chubby guys, not seriously overweight ones. And “low T,” as it’s sometimes known, isn’t always great for you. Fitter guys have better and more frequent erections and an improved ability to have orgasms, according to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine—not to mention any number of positive side effects.
Bottom line? The dad bod should probably be reserved for dads—not, say, thirty-something man-children who are still living out their post-frat decade in a haze of pork rinds and Miller Lite.
And don’t worry: There are still plenty of women who find six-packs and muscles plenty attractive, thank you very much.