It turns out that older men chasing younger women contributes to human longevity and the survival of the species, according to new findings by researchers at Stanford and the University of California-Santa Barbara.
Evolutionary theory says that individuals should die of old age when their reproductive lives are complete, generally by age 55 in humans, according to demographer Cedric Puleston, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences at Stanford. But the fatherhood of a small number of older men is enough to postpone the date with death because natural selection fights life-shortening mutations until the species is finished reproducing.
“Rod Stewart and David Letterman having babies in their 50s and 60s provide no benefit for their personal survival, but the pattern [of reproducing at a later age] has an effect on the population as a whole,” Puleston said. “It’s advantageous to the species if these people stick around. By increasing the survival of men you have a spillover effect on women because men pass their genes to children of both sexes.”
“Why Men Matter: Mating Patterns Drive Evolution of Human Lifespan,” was published Aug. 29 in the online journal Public Library of Science ONE. Shripad Tuljapurkar, the Morrison Professor of Population Studies at Stanford; Puleston; and Michael Gurven, an assistant professor of anthropology at UCSB, co-authored the study in an effort to understand why humans don’t die when female reproduction ends.
Human ability to scale the so-called “wall of death”—surviving beyond the reproductive years—has been a center of scientific controversy for more than 50 years, Puleston said. “The central question is: Why should a species that stops reproducing by some age stick around afterward?” he said. “Evolutionary theory predicts that, over time, harmful mutations that decrease survival will arise in the population and will remain invisible to natural selection after reproduction ends.” However, in hunter-gatherer societies, which likely represent early human demographic conditions and mating patterns, one-third of people live beyond 55 years, past the reproductive lifespan for women. Furthermore, life expectancy in today’s industrialized countries is 75 to 85 years, with mortality increasing gradually, not abruptly, following female menopause.
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