Gerontocratic polygyny

Significant differences in paternal age can make a big difference in the mutation rate.  If maintained for a long time, thousands of years, this would also cause significant differences in total mutational load.  For example, the average paternal age in Iceland in 1980 was 28, which would mean 56 new mutations per generation.  For Australian Aborigines, which have a very unusual pattern  in which fathers are about 14 years older than mothers, the average paternal age was 42.6,  which would mean 85.2 mutations per generation –   a 57.5% higher mutation rate.   If that pattern persisted for a long time,  the high-mutation population would have a much higher genetic load.  Every member of that high-mutation population would have considerably more genetic errors than individuals in a population that had experienced that low Iceland rate for a long time.  You would expect that this extra genetic burden would reduce brain efficiency, but you would also expect to see lots of other health problems, surely resulting in reduced lifespan.

I think that Australian aborigines may have had this pattern for a long time.  The rest of the world has changed more rapidly.  I know that paternal age in Iceland  is higher today (33) than it was in 1980, and that it appears to have been as high or higher in the 17th and 18th centuries.  But I don’t what the average pattern was over the past few thousand years.

I think this means that the differences in genetic load recently seen between European/East Asian  and African populations are not particularly surprising.  Particular social paths/ ecological situations  can have large long-term genetic impacts, impacts that no one involved could foresee.





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4 Responses to Gerontocratic polygyny

  1. j says:

    I just want to comment that Ashkenazi Jews married their children at a very low age (even today, the haredim have problems with Israeli law that forbids marriage of minors). Although that custom is not exclusive of Ashkenazim, Hindu Brahmins and Chinese also practice child marriage. Their average paternal age may have been therefore lower that Northern European populations.

  2. Timtoc says:

    One of Gregory Clark’s theses in Farewell to Alms was that delayed age of marriage and thereby fertility in pre-Industrial Revolution England was a factor (along with war, disease, poor hygiene and pestilent cities) in the social and possible genetic changes in the English peoples that allowed replacement of the poor with the scions of the rich. I wonder if Professor Clark has data on paternal ages for the poor and the rich respectively and if there is a delta?

  3. hbd chick says:

    hajnal found that the average age at marriage for nw european men was 26 (23 for women). that’s been more or less confirmed by subsequent research, and it seems to go back to at least the fifteenth-sixteenth centuries. it might go back a couple of hundred years before that, too (i wouldn’t be surprised to learn that), but probably not into pre-christian days — at least not for women. pre-christian saxon burials show girls aged 12-14 dressed/having grave goods the same as older women [pg. 107], so they were probably marrying young — although maybe they were married off to older men!

  4. Pingback: mating patterns, family types, social structures, and selection pressures | hbd* chick

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