Bernhard Fink, Nick Neave and JT Manning

Second to fourth digit ratio, body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and waist-to-chest ratio: their relationships in heterosexual men and women

Annals of Human Biology

Background: Prenatal sex steroids have been broadly discussed in terms of their possible effect on brain differentiation, whereas pubertal/adult sex hormones are thought to be the main regulators of sexually dimorphic physical features in males and females. Assessing prenatal steroid exposure has previously been difficult but evidence now suggests that finger length ratio may provide a ‘window’ into prenatal hormone exposure. The length of the second digit (the index finger) relative to the length of the fourth digit (the ring finger) is sexually dimorphic as males have a lower second to fourth digit ratio (2D:4D). The sexual dimorphism is determined as early as the 14th week of fetal life, and remains unchanged at puberty. There is evidence that sex differences in 2D:4D arise from in utero concentrations of sex steroids, with a low 2D:4D (male typical ratio) being positively related to prenatal testosterone, while a high 2D:4D (female typical ratio) is positively associated with prenatal oestrogen. Aim: The studied aimed to determine whether, and to what extent, adult sexually dimorphic physical traits, which are largely determined at puberty, relate to traits that are largely determined in utero. This work examined the relationship between three sexually dimorphic traits—body mass index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) and waist-to-chest ratio (WCR)—and digit ratio. Participants and methods: BMI, WHR and WCR were assessed in 30 heterosexual male and 50 heterosexual female participants by recording their body height, weight, and measuring their waist, hip and chest circumference. Digit lengths of the second and fourth fingers were measured from photocopies of the ventral surface of the hand and by actual finger measurements. Results: Digit ratio was found to be significantly lower in men than in women. Significant negative correlations were found between female’s left and right hand 2D:4D, waist and hip circumference, and WCR. In males, BMI was found to be positively related to digit ratio but remained significant only for left hand 2D:4D. Generally, the relationships were stronger for females than for males. Although not all relationships were found to be significant, they were in accord with our predictions. Conclusion: In addition to an activational effect of sex hormones at puberty, the present data suggest an early organizational effect of sex hormones through the association between indices of female body shape, male BMI, and human finger length patterns.