Choosy mates

Zach and I have finally completed our move and I will hopefully be able to update at least semi-regularly again. 

Mating_PenguinsI’ve been noticing a lot of articles in the news lately which report on the “surprising” result that human men and women are about equally choosy when picking a mate (in this article, for example).  The articles claim that the result is surprising because of a long-standing belief that women are choosier because they invest more energy into reproduction (larger gametes, gestation, etc.) then men.

Because reproductive investment is low in men, they could potentially produce hundreds of offspring at little cost to themselves. This high potential for reproductive success means that men should mate with lots of females to maximize their fitness. On the other hand, females are only capable of producing a fixed number of offspring during their lifetime and mating is often costly, so females should only mate with a few, carefully choosen males. The main point here is that males have a greater reproductive potential than females. 

DragonfliesThat’s all well and good, but it completely ignores the fact that, in monogamous systems, a male will only end up with as many offsprings as his female partner is capable of producing. Males should therefore be choosy because they want to find a female that will produce as many healthy offspring as possible and females should still be choosy for the same reasons as before.  

Of course, few if any species are completely monogamous.  Genetic studies have revealed that many of the bird species we’ve written songs and poems about because we consider them to be shining examples of monogamy are actually fooling around behind each other’s backs fairly often. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we find that females are willing to sneak around with males of a higher quality than their social partner and males should be willing to sneak around when they get the chance too.  But the point still remains that both sexes in mainly monogamous systems they should be as choosy as possible about the social partner with which they’ll be producing the bulk of their offspring.  

Most human cultures are monogamous (to some degree) and so it doesn’t seem to me that we ought to be too surprised to find that males and females are equally choosy about their partners. The studies examining human mating behavior are certainly interesting, but (despite their claims) they aren’t producing results that are particularly surprising. 

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3 thoughts on “Choosy mates

  1. I don’t believe it’s quite fair or accurate to say that most human cultures are monogamous. According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook (according to wikipedia… my intro cultural anthro class was some time ago), only 186 of 1231 cultures noted were purely monogamous. This doesn’t mean that polygyny is strictly adhered to in the rest of cultures, but when males have the option to do so (resources or cultural standing allow it), they generally take it. Polyandry, on the other hand, appears to be a cultural adaptation to a dearth of resources, although I am admittedly only familiar with one such society.

    I would suggest that it is, additionally, unnecessary to be monogamous for your argument to work. It’s all about how many resources a male can use to ‘get’ women to reproduce with him. The key is that male resources are not unlimited in this regard, and there are probably no cultures in which women are freely promiscuous as to allow a male to get away with no investment.

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