Testosterone Levels 100 Years Ago

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.)

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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.)

But 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 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.

Ancient Testosterone

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.


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 20th Century began, 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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Social Changes. There have been many social changes that have occurred in this time. Possibly people feel 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)

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