Darwin-L Message Log 8:53 (April 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<8:53>From Kim.Sterelny@vuw.ac.nz  Sat Apr 16 20:27:55 1994

Date: Sun, 17 Apr 1994 13:27:48 +1200
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: Kim.Sterelny@vuw.ac.nz
Subject: Re: re:mating

Michael Alvard writes:

>While reproductive value or fertility are not the singular overwhelming
>criteria for human male mate choices, I would argue reproduce considerations,
>in general, are.  Males, cross culturally, prefer women who are young and
>healthy. Both are traits  that correlate with reprodcutive value. Chubbiness,
>for example, is attractive in most traditional societies because it is a
>reliable indicator of health and fertility.  Monique Borgerhoff-Mulder
>examined brideprice and female reproductive value with the Kipsigis, a
>traditional group of Kenya.  Kipsigis males must pay livestock to obtain
>their wives. Borgerhoff-Mulder found that the higher the reproductive value
>of the bride, the greater the price she and her family could demand. Other
>factors also effected the price:  pregnancy, a prior birth, lower levels of
>body fat, a physical handicap are all factors that lowered the price.
>I do not know any studies that have examined whether males who seek short-
>term copulations prefer older females. This prediction would be very
>difficult to test because the effect may be hard to detect.  Since short-
>terms matings are often low-cost for males, a male pursuing a short term
>mating strategy loses little by accepting a less than optimal partner.

Two comments: (i) it is often indeed claimed that "short-term matings are
low cost" to males, but I do not think at all obvious that this is true,
more particularly in those social structures in which human psychological
predispositions evolved. Cost is more than cost of sperm: it includes risk.
One such risk is disease; this may have beel less in small hunting and
gathering communities. But we are in no position to assume that the costs
of social retaliation (including just withdrawal of co-operation) would
have been small. It is certainly not small in many contempary communities;
there is little reason to suppose it would have been small in
paleocommunities (ii) the distinction between reproductive value and
fertility is surely well-taken. But I wonder if even fertility is not quite
the right explanation for chimp disinterest in adolescent females: the
problem with them may not lie in fertilty as such but rather in their
chances of raising offspring to independence.

Kim Sterelny
Philosophy, Wellington

Your Amazon purchases help support this website. Thank you!

© RJO 1995–2016