Handgrip strength and 2D : 4D in women: homogeneous samples challenge the (apparent) gender paradox

Bäck, N., Schaefer, K., Windhager, S., 2021. Handgrip strength and 2D: 4D in women: homogeneous samples challenge the (apparent) gender paradox. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 288, 20212328.


The length ratio between the second and the fourth digit (2D : 4D) is a retrospective, non-invasive biomarker for prenatal androgen exposure. It was found to be negatively correlated with handgrip strength (HGS) in men, but the evidence for women is mixed. Such studies in women call for increased detection sensitivity. The present study was designed to reduce potential confounding factors, especially age and ethnicity variation. We measured the digit ratios and HGS of 125 healthy women between 19 and 31 years of age from a remote region in Austria. 2D : 4D of both hands was significantly and negatively correlated with HGS (n = 125, right hand: r = –0.255, p = 0.002, left hand: r = –0.206, p = 0.011). Size, direction and significance of correlation coefficients remained stable when statistically controlling for age, body weight, body height, body mass index or hours of exercise per week. This yields theory-consistent evidence that HGS and 2D : 4D are clearly associated in women—when sufficiently reducing genetic variation (confounding 2D : 4D), the ontogenetic environment and age ranges (confounding HGS) in the study population. This finding implies similar organizing effects of prenatal androgens as in men, pointing to a more parsimonious developmental mechanism and a new look into its proximate and ultimate causes.

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