Parental Influence on Mate Choice

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In humans, the combination of an extensive period during which offspring depend upon parents for survival and where parents are physically stronger than their children, likely enabled parents to take a significant role in their offspring’s mate choice. By doing so they became a unique sexual selection force and allowed for an increase in frequency in the population of traits attractive for an in-law. Additionally, parental control likely was directed primarily towards female offspring who are the scarcer reproductive source due to larger female investment in offspring.

Comparative studies of modern hunter-gatherer societies show that most marriage is controlled by parents and close kin, indicating that this type of mating control was likely prevalent throughout human evolution, and likely dates back as far as the first migrations out of Africa. These studies found that hunter-gatherer parents more often chose husbands for their daughters who showed themselves to be good hunters and providers. Other traits that might be given stronger consideration in a courtship-type mating system, such as traits suggestive of genetic quality (e.g. physical attractiveness), were not considered important. The development of agropastoral societies likely increased parental control over mating, as it created greater material wealth at stake for parents and offspring, and as such further solidified this as an important selection factor in human evolution.

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  1. Sexual selection under parental choice: evidence from sixteen historical societies., Apostolou, M. , Evol Psychol, Volume 10, Issue 3, p.504-18, (2012)
  2. Evolutionary history of hunter-gatherer marriage practices., Walker, Robert S., Hill Kim R., Flinn Mark V., and Ellsworth Ryan M. , PLoS One, 2011, Volume 6, Issue 4, p.e19066, (2011)
  3. Sexual selection under parental choice in agropastoral societies, Apostolou, M. , Evol Hum Behav, 01/2010, Volume 31, Issue 1, p.39 - 47, (2010)