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August 29, 2007

Reporting on Evolution

I do get slightly persnicketty about this sort of thing:

Men have evolved to seek wives and girlfriends who are younger than they are to maximise their chances of reproducing, researchers have found.

The way I understand it is that no one or thing has "evolved to". It's that those who did so had more surviving offspring, said trait, if it is genetically caused, thus spreading through the population.

Here it's a minor thing: men look to the potential fertility of mates, women more to (and of course this is an average across the population, not a determinant for any one individual) the social status/wealth and resources of the male.

One thing does rather amuse me: the six year age gap leading to the maximum amount of children. That's not far off what has traditionally been, in UK society, a 7 year gap. However, much more common in US life has been marrying much more closely within the same age group (high school sweethearts, meeting at college, all that sort of stuff). And Americans tend to have more children than Brits.

August 29, 2007 in Science | Permalink


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Do native-born Americans have more children than native-born Brits, or is the US's greater fecundity mostly due to higher developing-world immigrant populations? I'd always assumed the latter.

Tim adds: That immigrants have more children (when they're immigrants from places with higher fertility rates) is indeed well known. However, on the other side, Sweden has higher foreign born percentage of the population than the US and a lower birth rate. So, hmm, dunno exactly, but would guess that the US indigenes do have a higher birth rate.

Posted by: john b | Aug 29, 2007 11:03:50 AM

America has more land, property prices are lower and they got walk-in fridges and dishwashers long ago!

This might have a bearing on the matter.

Posted by: Roger Thornhill | Aug 29, 2007 11:46:23 AM

Any statement like "evolved to" or "selected to" is a shorthand for an even more elaborate statement than the one you took it as meaning, invovling the differential fitness of competing alleles. It isn't incorrect but it is efficient. However, it is important that individuals understand the basic process that underlies the statement, otherwise its meaning could be misinterpreted, e.g. inferring intention into evolution.

Posted by: Philip Thomas | Aug 29, 2007 12:55:20 PM

(OT but): Sweden's immigrants are mostly Western European rather than developing world, aren't they?

Tim adds: What, you mean those who've read Polly and believed about Nirvana?

I think actually that Sweden has a high Turkish and ME immigrant rate.

Posted by: john b | Aug 29, 2007 1:47:04 PM

Men have evolved to seek wives and girlfriends who are younger than they are to maximise their chances of reproducing, researchers have found.

But no amount of research could establish that the men who seek younger females with which to mate are doing so for genetic causes rather than social reasons.

See David Stove's 'Darwinian Fairytales' for a rational critique of the theory of evolution.

Posted by: paul ilc | Aug 29, 2007 6:12:14 PM

Bloody Hell. Americans get their ends away in walk-in dishwashers? Golly.

Posted by: dearieme | Aug 29, 2007 9:53:25 PM