The Bald Truth on How Baldness Is Inherited


If many of the older men in your family are distinguished by a shiny bald patch on their heads, their younger male relatives may be wondering if it’s only a matter of time for them, too. There’s a common claim that baldness is inherited from the mother’s father. How much truth is there in this claim?

Male Pattern Baldness

Most of the research that’s been conducted on hair loss has focused on male pattern baldness (MPB) as opposed to female pattern baldness. Maybe this is because the latter is less striking. Females don’t tend to develop completely bald patches — instead, their hair tends to thin.

Research shows that approximately 30% of males experience a degree of hair loss by the age of 30, 50% by the age of 50, and 80% by the age of 70 (Hamilton J.B., 1951).

Male pattern baldness usually begins with a receding hairline, most pronounced around the temples, and then with a small bald spot at the back of the head that eventually grows larger. At the end of the process, most men with MPB are left with only a small amount of hair behind the ears and at the back of the head in a kind of horseshoe pattern.

How Does Hair Grow, and Why Does It Stop?

Hair grows from a root, located at the bottom of the hair follicles on your scalp. It’s composed of proteins, mostly keratin, built by the various types of cells located in the follicle. As the cells add more proteins to the hair, it pushes out from the root and grows. The unique characteristics of the hair follicles determine the characteristics of hair, such as its color and whether it’s curly or straight.

A chemical derivative of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is responsible for the hair loss process. DHT causes the hair follicles to shrink, and the hair growing in those follicles thins and eventually falls out. The fact that DHT is derived from testosterone may explain why baldness is so much more common among men than among women.

DNA and Baldness

Several large-scale genetic studies (Hagenaars et al, 2017; Heilmann-Heimbach et al, 2017; Pirastu et al, 2017) have shown that DNA plays an important role in determining whether an individual will develop MBP. One of the genes associated with hair loss is the AR gene. This gene codes for a protein which helps hair follicles detect hormones that affect hair growth (such as testosterone), and it’s located on the X chromosome — a chromosome that biological males inherit from their mothers. This is probably the source of the claim that baldness is inherited from the mother’s father. After all, if the gene is on the X chromosome, and the X chromosome is inherited from the mother, it couldn’t have been inherited from the father, right?

Well, as with many things in genetics, it’s not as simple as that. One of the studies (Hagenaars et al, 2017) showed that MBP is a polygenic condition: a condition associated with numerous genetic variants, not just one. (Some of the conditions the MyHeritage DNA Health+Ancestry test looks for are polygenic conditions, such as heart disease and breast cancer.) Moreover, many of the genetic variants associated with MBP aren’t located on sex chromosomes — and Hagenaars’s study found that those ones more accurately predict whether someone will develop MBP than the ones located on sex chromosomes.

In other words, there is a little grain of truth to the claim that men inherit a tendency for baldness from their mothers’ fathers… but not a whole lot. There are many other factors that are more important when it comes to predicting whether a man will develop MBP.

Is there male pattern baldness in your family? Share your stories in the comments!

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  • Ross

    November 10, 2019

    Maybe you can include it as a polygenic condition in your Health report?

  • Virgil Owens

    November 11, 2019

    It appears to skip generations along the paternal male line in my family i.e. myself, my grandfather, my 2nd great-grandfather were all fully bald by our 60’s. My mother’s father had only a slightly receding hairline but an otherwise full-head of hair in his late 60’s. Her grandfather appears to have a full head of hair in old photos.

  • Tim Walsh

    November 11, 2019

    My dad was bald at 28. I’m 65 & still have a full head of hair. My only other brother aged 56 is going bald.My mother’s father was not bald.

  • Jean Mayo

    November 21, 2019

    My husband, at age 71 has lost over 50% of his hair on the top of his head. His mother’s father was the same way. We haven’t tracked past his maternal grandfather so we can’t see if it is in previous generations. His paternal ancestors all had lovely heads of thick hair. However, his brother and only sibling had a full head of hair. The only grandchild is female and also has lovely thick hair. So in his case MBP is 50-50.

  • Vivian Shirley

    November 22, 2019

    All the males in our family are 50 % bald by age 30. There are at least 10 genes listed in our genetics that contribute to this issue. The guys in our family are certain to have it. I cant think of any who were able to keep their hair!

  • Hylton B.

    November 23, 2019

    I am 67, and I am nearly bald – I have just the “horse-shoe” band left.
    My twin brother, who lives on the opposite side of the planet from me, is the same.
    So is my younger (by 4 years) brother in the same state.
    My sister, my youngest sibling, has hair that is thinning.
    All the mothers & grandmothers on both sides of my family kept all their hair, though I’m not certain about my grandmothers – they _may_ have had thinning hair; I was too young to notice or care when they passed on.
    By 80, my dad was totally bald.
    Both my grandfathers were bald.
    My son is now 33, and still has all his hair, but there are already signs of grey.
    BUT his other grandfather, at 86, still had a full head of white hair.
    Will my son go bald?