Please note that some of this data is a bit doubtful. However, we are still publishing this info out of interest.
Many articles say that average testosterone has been rapidly falling recently. But most of these articles don’t show you any actual numbers. Even studies of testosterone’s decline usually only show data from the 90’s or so. While there is currently no way to really know what testosterone was 100 years ago, I have discovered real data on testosterone from 1962 to the present day, and I have found some ways to estimate what testosterone was a few hundred years ago too. Finally, I have found a study of testosterone in hair from almost 2000 years ago in Egypt!
Testosterone Levels 60 Years Ago
As you can see, testosterone has fallen a lot in the USA since about 1980 to today. Testosterone from 1962 until about 1980 was a lot higher than today. It isn’t clear whether testosterone was higher in the 60’s than in the 70’s though. While I did find quite a few studies from this time period, I was not able to find what time of day and what age group many of the 60’s and 70’s studies were done with. Without the age group, I couldn’t correct for age. The time of day is important because testosterone is now usually measured around 8AM in the morning, since testosterone falls throughout the day, and then rises again through the night. They didn’t really know about this when they were doing the early testosterone studies, and I think it’s likely that many of these studies were done a good deal later than 8AM, thus providing lower results than the “morning testosterone” level that we use today and that we are comparing with. For these reasons, I have stuck to data that came from morning measurements, or in just a few cases, I’ve corrected data to reflect a morning measurement.
As you can see, average testosterone in the USA was something like 625 ng/dl in the 70’s, until the early 80’s. This is reasonably high testosterone. But since then it has been falling steadily.
Testosterone was something like 580 ng/dl in 1990, which is still acceptable.
In the period between 1999 to 2004 testosterone was 534 ng/dl.
For the average American man in the period of 2013 – 2016, testosterone was 420 ng/dl. (source)
420 ng/dl is quite close to being officially low testosterone, which is 300 ng/dl according to the American Urological Association. 420 is below the normal range of most studies from before 1980. That means that the average man today has lower testosterone than almost every man in the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s.
(For info about my sources and methods, check here.)
And now a quick word about potato chips!
If you’re here you’re probably interested in avoiding low testosterone. We believe seed oils (the junk food oils found all over the place today) could be one of the modern things that are lowering testosterone.
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OK, thank you for your attention and let’s get back to the article!
What About Testosterone Outside the USA?
Testosterone has dropped in much the same way in most parts of the world. But not all of the world. Testosterone has stayed at much the same high levels in Central Asia (with the notable exception of Kazakhstan) and in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the possible exception of South Africa. North Africa and Siberia have also mostly maintained the healthy high testosterone that they showed in earlier studies up into the present day. But Western Europe, Eastern Europe, East Asia, Latin America, and the USA have all been experiencing the same strong decline in testosterone since about 1980.
(I am not currently clear about whether other regions have experienced declines or not.)
Here’s a world map of testosterone levels that we’ve animated to show the difference between testosterone in 1980 and the current map of testosterone, so you can watch the change. It only includes the countries where we have data from both times.
Here’s the world map of testosterone levels around 1980. (data from 1975 to 1985)
And here’s the current world map of testosterone.
Raising testosterone back up
We aren’t sure what exactly is causing the low testosterone problem but evidence suggests a large part of it is due to microplastics (source) and “endocrine disruptors” – foreign chemicals that mess up your body’s hormones. Most of these chemicals weren’t around 100 years ago. Major sources of chemicals and plastics getting into your body are shampoos, non-organic food, and synthetic fabric furniture, carpets, and clothes.
Synthetic fabric, like polyester, gives off microplastic dust which you then breathe in. Synthetic fabric in furniture, carpets, and clothes could be the biggest microplastic source in the typical person’s life. “Synthetic textiles are the main source of airborne microplastics”(source). Since microplastics are often xenoestrogens, you may be exposed to testosterone-lowering foreign substances when you are around polyester fabric a lot, whether it’s your pillowcase, clothes, or furniture.
This study discusses the idea that most of the microplastics in your body (perhaps 80%) got in there by inhaling polyester dust in your house from clothes, furniture, carpets, etc.
A cotton sheet, which is a natural fabric that won’t lower testosterone, could be spread over your furniture to help prevent microplastic dust getting into the air and into your lungs. Holy Lamb Organics makes a collection of wool and cotton bedding which you might find helpful.
Here’s their Holy Lamb Organics Wool Comfortor.
In the past, people weren’t exposed to endocrine disruptor chemicals and microplastics. Their clothes were cotton or wool, and xenoestrogens weren’t in their skincare products. That may be part of why testosterone used to be higher.
How high was testosterone 100 years ago or 200 years ago?
Testosterone is measured in the blood. The first time testosterone could be measured accurately in the blood appears to be around 1962. Any claim that “testosterone levels were 5000 ng/dl in the year 1800” is questionable because testosterone could not be directly measured until much more recently. (Unless someone can find some blood stored from back then, and measure the testosterone in it in such a way that the effects of time don’t mess up the measurement.)
However, testicle size correlates with testosterone. Old medical books mention the normal testicle size of their time. So we can use this to estimate what testosterone levels may have been in the 1700’s and 1800’s!
As you can see, testosterone appears to be naturally high through the 1700’s, 1800’s, and early 1900’s. Somewhere after 1950 testosterone drops hard. This chart lines up with industrial chemical use very nicely, but there were many changes post World War 2.
Testosterone in the late 1600’s and 1700’s
“Their bigness differs very much in several persons; as big as a Dove’s Egg is reckon’d a mean size” – The Anatomy of Humane Bodies, Europe, pre-1682.
Unless dove’s eggs have changed in size, this size would be about 23.29 ml volume, which suggests 847 ng/dl in the late 1600’s.
“Their size is nearly that of a pigeon’s egg” – An Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body, Europe, between 1732 to 1772.
Doves and pigeons are in fact the same species, but considering what breed the writer could have meant, and noting the word “nearly,” this size would be about 20.6 ml, which suggests 770 ng/dl in the mid 1700’s.
Testosterone in the 1800’s
“long diameter two inches, its transverse an inch and a half, and its lateral one inch and one-eighth” – Sir Astley Cooper, Britain, first half of the 1800’s.
This would be about 27.29 ml, implying 961 ng/dl in the early 1800’s.
“one inch and three-quarters in length, one inch and a quarter across or in breadth, and one inch in thickness or from side to side” – A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Testis, and of the Spermatic Cord and Scrotum, Europe or USA, before 1855.
That’s 20.47 ml, which is 767 ng/dl, in the mid 1800’s.
“They are from an inch and a half to two inches long, about an inch and a quarter from the anterior to the posterior border, and nearly an inch from side to side. The weight of each varies from three-quarters of an ounce to an ounce” – Quain’s Anatomy, between 1828 and 1877, quoted in A Text-Book of Human Physiology
This would be 23.88 ml, and 864 ng/dl, in the mid 1800’s.
In Egypt, there is an ancient cemetery called “Kellis 2” in the Dakhleh Oasis. It is estimated to be from between 50 and 450 AD. They say this was the Roman and early Christian period of Egypt’s history. This cemetery is so dry that natural mummies are found there, and hair has been taken from them for analysis. Testosterone has been measured in this hair. (Link to the study) Hair testosterone correlates somewhat with blood testosterone. The Egyptian males had an average hair testosterone of 21.14 ng/gram. This was compared to a modern sample of men about age 80 with hair testosterone of 13.56 ng/gram, and these modern men, being approximately 80 year old American men in the late 2010’s, would likely have testosterone of about 330 ng/dl by my calculation. By comparing these two results, I calculated that the Egyptians would then have blood testosterone of 514 ng/dl. The Egyptians were apparently an average of 29 years old. Correcting for age, the male Egyptians of this time and place would then have an average testosterone of 439 ng/dl, which is pretty low. However, the hair is from men who died, and so the testosterone in their hair would reflect the time leading up to their death, some of which would likely have been marked by sickness, which generally lowers testosterone.
There is more preserved hair from the past that could be analyzed in this way, but I’m not aware of any other studies that have done this yet.
Testosterone In Hunter-Gatherers
You might be wondering what testosterone levels were like in ancient tribes outside of civilization. We don’t know that, but we do know the testosterone levels of modern hunter-gatherers! These people do indeed have high testosterone usually, but not always. Sometimes they suffer from malnutrition, which lowers hormones. There’s a full article on our site about hunter-gatherer testosterone levels.
Extremely High Testosterone In Outliers
With higher average testosterone levels in the past, there were a few guys at the top end of the range who were walking around with levels that today in most places would probably only be seen in someone unnatural. There are also a few people with insanely high testosterone naturally in some of the parts of the world where testosterone hasn’t fallen. Here are some examples we’ve found.
- Yakutsk, Russia in 2011 – There apparently were some men who averaged 1510 ng/dl testosterone here. (source) Hard to believe, but the Russian Far East does consistently report high testosterone. Whatever is lowering testosterone around the world has mostly left this area alone.
- Nomadic tribesmen from northern Kenya, the Turkana people, in 1992. 11 out of 78 men, or 14%, were over 1500 ng/dl. Two were over 2000 ng/dl, and the highest one was 2663 ng/dl. (source) More discussion of that is in our article about hunter gatherer testosterone levels.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the USA in 1980. Out of just 11 “healthy volunteers” the highest was 1501 ng/dl, the 2nd highest was 1297 ng/dl, and the 3rd was 1055 ng/dl. (source)
- In source) , during 1974-1975 – Out of 15 men, the highest was 1293 ng/dl, the 2nd highest was 1144 ng/dl, and the 3rd was 1029 ng/dl. (At various times through the year) (
- Probably In 1978, in Moscow, Russia, the “maximum” level out of 81 young men was 1499 ng/dl. (source)
- In 2011-2012 in Amirkola, Iran, a mountain village, older men with an average age of 70 were studied. Out of 830 men, the highest result was 3475 ng/dl. Two more were also over 3000. The top 3% of the men (27 men) were over 1475 ng/dl. (source)
- In 2006, among Hmong people and other rural northern Thai people – out of 65 men from Pong Yaeng (mostly Hmong), the highest level was 3010 ng/dl. Out of 68 men from Inthakhin, the highest level was 2400 ng/dl. Both these would probably flag a steroid test in the US, but I doubt these rural farmers were anything but natural. (source) The average testosterone among the mostly Hmong farmers in Pong Yaeng was 975 ng/dl at an average age of 37. Unfortunately I can’t find the individual results from all these farmers, although I thought I had seen this at some point.
- Villages (“Jago and Badeku,” along the river Oshun in the jungle of SW Nigeria) outside Ibadan, Nigeria in 1987 – In those with untreated parasites, testosterone was 987 ng/dl, but in those with treated parasites, testosterone was 1200 ng/dl. (source)
- Peshawar, Pakistan recently – 1090 ng/dl average in 18-25 year olds (source) in 2016, and another study finding an average of 908 ng/dl in 18-25 year olds in Peshawar in 2019. The highest of these 115 men was 1690 ng/dl. And 13% of them had testosterone over 1200 ng/dl. (source)
- Around 1966 in the USA, quite likely in New York City, among men aged 20-45, the highest number among 60 men was 1440 ng/dl, and the second highest was about 1180 ng/dl. (source)
- Explorers from India on an Antarctic expedition had their testosterone go from 910 in 1985 in New Delhi, India up to 1294 ng/dl in Antarctica in 1986 on the “Sixth Indian Antarctic Expedition … at Dakshin Gangotri” (source)
- Montana, USA in wild firefighters in 2020 – they averaged 1200 ng/dl testosterone apparently. (source)
- Nebraska, USA in 1981 – out of six guys, one of them had 1230 – 1505 ng/dl testosterone, and another had 1036 – 1170 ng/dl testosterone, depending on the method used to measure it. (source) So that’s 1/3 of the sample with testosterone over 1000 ng/dl, which is very rare in naturals today.
- In 1996 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA, four healthy men, averaging 27.5 years old had 1151 ng/dl testosterone. (source)
- In Belmont, Massachusets, USA in 1974 the average testosterone of heavy marijuana users in their early 20’s was 1115 ng/dl (source) (Evidence is not clear on this subject by the way, some evidence points to long term marijuana use lowering testosterone)
- Ahwaz, Iran in 2016 at age 20, “10 male physical education students of
Shahid Chamran University of Ahwaz” averaged 1100 ng/dl. (source)
- Out of seven healthy young men, age 24-29, in England or Scotland in 1974, one of them hit 1120 ng/dl testosterone. (source)
- Chita, Russia in 2012 – At age 34 they averaged 1022 ng/dl. (source)
- In the “Jordan Valley” of Jordan between 1997 to 1998, the researcher writes that testosterone fluctuates from 480 in February to 1660 ng/dl in June. (source) While other studies do find a mild seasonal fluctuation in testosterone, this is by far the most extreme fluctuation. So I do wonder if there was an error in the study maybe. Also, a different study on Jordan did not find such high testosterone at all.
- This paper from 2014 found Russian athletes to have about 2200 ng/dl testosterone, but this is highly suspicious in light of potential steroid use. (source)
- In Florida in 2015, a study on young, experienced lifters found 1075 ng/ dl on average. (source) However, this is suspicious due to potential steroids affecting the sample.
- In Florida in 2016, a study on mostly state championship powerlifters found 1309 ng/dl testosterone, but again this is suspicious because of the potential use of steroids. (source)
- Vietnam, 2018 – Olympic cyclists have 1070 ng/dl test at age 19. (source) Again, that’s questionable because of potential steroid use.
Testosterone has fallen drastically in most of the world from healthy levels to unhealthy ones. The big fall has occurred from the early 80’s onward. It might be that this is part of a larger trend of testosterone falling from very high levels before the middle of the 20th Century, but much more evidence would be needed to say that. The fall of testosterone from 1980 to today has lots of evidence though. Nobody seems to know what is causing this. While obesity correlates strongly with low testosterone, an NHANES study (link here) showed that even men with a healthy weight are much lower testosterone than they used to be.
I can think of a few ideas about what is causing this:
- PUFA consumption has risen through the twentieth century and especially after WW2 – this I believe is driving the obesity and chronic disease increase. I think it might be involved in low testosterone as well. More info here: PUFA Might Lower Testosterone
- Chemicals and Plastics. The use of agricultural chemicals really took off in the decades after WW2. Read more here: Pesticides May Lower Testosterone Synthetic plastic was invented in 1907, and plastics have been increasing ever since. Plastics accumulate in the environment and in our bodies, and they are known to disrupt testosterone. There is a whole host of other chemicals that we are now exposed to as well, such as flame retardants in the furniture and preservatives in the food.
- Radio waves. One study found that mice exposed to a long cell phone call every day had much lower testosterone. Our world is awash in radio waves. Over the 20th Century this has grown from almost nothing to very high exposure in the 21st Century from the cell phone in your pocket mostly! I plan to write more about this.
- Social Changes. There have been many social changes that have occurred in this time. Possibly people feel less purposeful, less independent and more helpless, defeated, and disoriented in the face of high technology, the loss of “traditional values,” mass society, mass media, powerfully armed states, very large corporations, high amounts of regulation, and cultures that value intense education and “professional” work for a large company. Internalizing certain attitudes likely affects hormones. One study has found that Americans in 2007 were quite a bit more likely to be mentally disordered than in 1938. (Source)