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.

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<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

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