Human parental effort and environmental risk

  • Quinlan R
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Parental investment decisions depend on multiple factors, including the extent that parental care benefits offspring. Humans should show reduced parental effort in environments where parenting cannot improve offspring survival. Data from the standard cross-cultural sample are used to test this prediction. The results show that maternal care was inversely associated with famine and warfare, and also showed a quadratic association with pathogen stress, increasing as pathogen stress increased to moderate levels, but decreasing at higher levels. Age at weaning showed a similar quadratic relation with pathogens. The curvilinear associations between parental effort and pathogen stress may reflect that the saturation point of parental care is a function of environmental hazards. Paternal involvement was also inversely related to pathogen stress. The association between pathogens and paternal involvement was partially mediated by polygyny. In sum, maternal and paternal care appears to have somewhat different relations with environmental hazards, presumably owing to sex-specific tradeoffs in reproductive effort.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Cross-cultural analysis
  • Evolutionary ecology
  • Extrinsic mortality
  • Life history
  • Parental investment

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  • Robert J. Quinlan

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