If you’re a grandmother, you probably jump at the chance to take care of your grandkids, bandaging their boo-boos, reading them stories, baking them cookies, and of course, slipping them a $20 bill when they head back home. And you believe—and rightly so—that all the big and little things you do for them are important, even essential to their upbringing.
But did you know that the role you’re playing in their lives could actually be helping them (as well as the rest of the human species) live longer?
You read it right! In the ‘90s, two researchers spent time observing the last hunter-gather society in Africa, and they noted that the older women within the village, rather than the mothers, were the ones primarily responsible for helping the young ones forage for food. These observations led them to propose the “Grandmother Hypothesis.”
Essentially, what this theory says is that these built-in babysitters caring for the little ones has allowed moms throughout the evolution of the human species to be able to have more babies. And with more babies, there’s been more opportunity for the grandmas, or the women who were living the longest, to pass along their longevity genes to the younger generations. This purpose in life even seems to explain why these particular female humans were living longer than other female primates, long past their reproductive years, in the first place.
This revolutionary theory of evolution has been highly contested over the years. Therefore, to bolster their case, the researchers more recently used a computer simulation to illustrate not only how the number of women living old enough to become grandmothers has soared from one percent of female caregivers to 43 percent over the course of less than 60,000 years, but also how humans’ overall lifespan has almost doubled over this same time period.
Grandmothers are cherished by their grandchildren the world over, but now there could be a scientific reason to revere them even more. Long live Grandma!