Evolution of Human Sex Roles

In discussing human sex roles one usually starts thus:

…because a single egg is more costly to produce than a single sperm, the number of offspring produced by female animals is limited by the number of eggs that she can produce, while the number of offspring produced by male animals is limited by the number of mating partners.

And then usually this is thrown in as well:

…male animals are competitive and promiscuous while female animals are non-competitive and choosy.

PhysOrg.Com is reporting on research in Trends in Ecology and Evolution that indicates that the situation is a little bit more complex than that:

Dr Brown said, “While male reproductive success varied more than female reproductive success overall, huge variability was found between populations; for instance, in monogamous societies, variances in male and female reproductive success were very similar.”
The researchers argue that evolutionary theory can help us to understand this variability between populations.
“Recent advances in evolutionary theory suggest that factors such as sex-biased mortality, sex-ratio, population density and variation in mate quality, are likely to impact mating behaviour in humans,” said Dr Brown.
Dr Brown and colleagues concluded that the diversity in human mating strategies suggests that a single universal principle is unlikely to fully describe human behaviour.

I’m not surprised, I’ve always thought “promiscuous males” vs “choosy females” was a grossly oversimplified dichotomy…

One Response

  1. I think there may be something wrong with your formatting. Anyway, the article in question is at Bateman’s principles and human sex roles by Gillian R. Brown, Kevin N. Laland and Monique Borgerhoff Mulder Abstract:

    In 1948, Angus J. Bateman reported a stronger relationship between mating and reproductive success in male fruit flies compared with females, and concluded that selection should universally favour an undiscriminating eagerness in the males and a discriminating passivity in the females to obtain mates. The conventional view of promiscuous, undiscriminating males and coy, choosy females has also been applied to our own species. Here, we challenge the view that evolutionary theory prescribes stereotyped sex roles in human beings, firstly by reviewing Bateman’s principles and recent sexual selection theory and, secondly, by examining data on mating behaviour and reproductive success in current and historic human populations. We argue that human mating strategies are unlikely to conform to a single universal pattern.

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