Most men marry younger women. This has been attributed to men selecting young women due to their high reproductive value and women preferring older men due to their wealth and high social status. Such mate preferences have been suggested to be adaptive, but despite a flourishing number of studies on the mate selection patterns themselves, little is still known of their actual fitness consequences. We examined how the age difference between spouses who married only once affected their lifetime reproductive success in historical monogamous Sami populations. We found that men maximized their fitness by marrying women approximately 15 years younger and vice versa. However, most couples failed to marry optimally. Only 10% of marriages fell within the optimal parental age difference, suggesting that cultural and ecological constraints for maximizing fitness were considerable. Those who succeeded in marrying optimally were the most preferred partners: young women and old men. Our findings indicate that, in Sami, parental age difference was under natural and sexual selection, as suggested by evolutionary theory.
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