Mate Choice and the Persistence of Maternal Mortality
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Maternal mortality remains one of the leading causes of death in women of reproductive age in developing countries, and a major concern in some developed countries. It is puzzling why such a condition has not been reduced in frequency, if not eliminated, in the course of evolution. Maternal mortality is a complex phenomenon caused by several physiological and physical factors. Among the physical factors, maternal mortality due to fetopelvic disproportion remains controversial. Several explanations including evolution of bipedal locomotion, rapid brain growth, and nutritional changes and life style changes in settler communities have been proposed. The influences of human reproductive biology and sexual selection have rarely been considered to explain why maternal mortality persisted through human evolution. We entertain the hypothesis that irrespective of the causes, the risks of all factors causing maternal mortality would be aggravated by disassortative mating, specifically male preference for younger females who are generally small statured and at higher risk of obstetric complications. Maternal mortality arising due to sexual selection and mate choice would have the long-term effect of driving widowers toward younger women, often resulting in "child marriage," which still remains a significant cause of maternal mortality globally. Evolutionarily, such a male driven mating system in polygamous human populations would have prolonged the persistence of maternal mortality despite selection acting against it. The effects may extend beyond maternal mortality because male-mate choice driven maternal mortality would reduce average reproductive life spans of women, thus influencing the evolution of menopause.
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