Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Christopher Dye on Human Evolution

Following Aslak's link dump below, I thought that I would share the video below of a lecture given by Professor Christopher Dye from the World Health Organizatio on human evolution, what it is and where it is going.

Especially relevant to the readers and contributors here is the discussion on births and especially teenage pregnancies where Dye makes the interesting observation that while an evolutionary push might lead to a higher prevalence of teenage births there is a strong cultural push in the other direction. One could also turn the perspective up a notch and ask the simple question of whether there isn't a contradiction between a demographic transition (development) driven by economic development which so obviously favors below replacement birth rates which seems, to me, to be trait not consistent with evolution. This is to say that it could appear that we are currently in a situation where our institutional set-up, as it were, tend to select for a reproductive profile which is not consistent with basic evolutionary tenets.


J said...

Humans still evolving? Still? No Sir. What we have been doing is just warming up, now we have domesticated ourselves and shall start to evolve full gas.

Renee said...

I watched the first part and the part regarding teenage pregnancy. Do you think it would be more viable for a society to accept that teenagers are fertile, rather then spend the countless programs to suppress it?

Many social conservatives have recently been buzzing about MTV's '16 & Pregnant', that it was a morality reality TV series about the negative effects of teens getting pregnant.

Now I admit I have not seen the show, I don't even have cable and stopped watching MTV since the station stopped being interested in actual music videos (mid 90s).

These girls would probably be in better situations if possible we accepted that not only sex gets your pregnant, but teenagers aren't older children, but rather young adults. Maybe we fail as parents and other social structures to allow venues for maturity to develop with puberty?

As women postpone pregnancy, what happens to men? Men in the mean time aren't saving up a nest egg for a family, rather you can see them on the Friday after Thanksgiving reading to dump a few hundred for a game console, plus another couple for the games.

Does anyone think MTV and their sponsors want young adults disposable income and their parents income to go to things like jarred baby food and premiums on life insurance?

I mentioned in the the other post about being the oddity with four kids by 32, I'm grateful for an education and supportive family and husband, the one thing I lack are material possessions and lifestyles outside of family. Not only am I not going out at night, my children are also surviving well with out the 1000 dollar stroller either, a common luxury that many older parents-to-be put on their baby registry.

CV said...

Hi Renee and J,

Thanks for your comments.

“Do you think it would be more viable for a society to accept that teenagers are fertile, rather then spend the countless programs to suppress it?”

This is the question isn’t … Personally, I am not for teenage pregnancies but I am definitely for institutional setups which incite women to have children earlier. The thing is, as Dye notes, the evolutionary and cultural forces are pulling in separate directions. Today, biologically women\girls reach their prime reproductive age much earlier than suggested by their desired path of fertility and it is worthwhile discussing why this is and more importantly what we can do, if anything, about it.

“Maybe we fail as parents and other social structures to allow venues for maturity to develop with puberty?”

Uff, I am not sure that I am the right one to weigh in on this but this is an important question of course (almost fundamental I would say). However, as Edward like to say, you cannot make the oceans go back and to me the idea of pushing pregnancy let alone partnership formation etc down into the teens just to accommodate biological development/evolution seem to be a stretch to me  (I am not saying this is what you argue of course).

“As women postpone pregnancy, what happens to men?”

Well, men may risk becoming the marginalized/weak sex (seriously!) since in the end women don’t need us, let alone to get pregnant. This would then be a cultural shift by which men are not able to “offer” themselves as suitable partners to women who then either discount having children all together or simply have them without men … ok, I may be going too far here, but in Denmark this discussion is all the rage at the moment 


Anonymous said...

Umm. Where to start.

Historically, human societies have varied immensely in age of first birth. The idea that because women become fertile at age X, they're biologically "intended" to start having children at age X, is nonsense. This is culturally mediated /and always has been/.

Adaptive: humans are extreme K strategists. Arguably the family situation in developed countries, with massive investment in just one or two offspring, is just the logical conclusion of this.

Natural selection is relative, BTW. It doesn't care much whether population is growing, shrinking or stable; that's largely irrelevant to selection at the individual level.

Doug M.