Objectives: Modern adverse birth outcomes may partially result from mechanisms evolved to evaluate environmental conditions and regulate maternal investment trade-offs. Male scarcity in a population is associated with a cluster of characteristics related to higher mating effort and lower paternal investment. We predicted that modern populations with male scarcity would have shorter gestational times and lower birth weights on average.
Methods: We compared US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention county-aggregated year 2000 birth records with US Decennial Census data. We combined these data in a path model with the degree of male scarcity and known socio-economic predictors of birth outcomes as exogenous predictors of prematurity and low birth weight, with single mother households as a proportion of families with children as a mediator (N = 450).
Results: Male scarcity was directly associated with higher rates of low birth weight. Male scarcity made significant indirect predictions of rates of prematurity and low birth weight, as mediated by the proportion of families headed by single mothers. Aggregate socio-economic status also indirectly predicted birth outcomes, as mediated by the proportion of families headed by single mothers, whereas the proportion African American retained both direct and indirect predictions of adverse birth outcomes.
Conclusions: Male scarcity influences life history tradeoffs, with consequences for important social and public health issues such as adverse birth outcomes.
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