The total cost of father desertion. Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVES: The benefits of paternal investment have long been explored by assessing the impact of father's presence on child wellbeing. Previous studies, however, have only examined the average effect of father's presence on child survivorship. Here we assess the total fitness cost to men of deserting (or the benefit of staying), by considering effects on the entire progeny. We estimate the total number of children that a deserting father can expect to lose due to reduced survivorship over the life course in five populations, and compare this loss to the benefit gains from remarrying a younger wife. METHODS: We compiled the observed impacts of father's absence, as well as mortality and fertility schedules, for five foraging or foraging/horticultural populations. We calculate how many additional children a man can expect to lose due to father's absence throughout a marriage. We then calculate the minimum age difference between a first and second spouse that would be necessary to overcome this cost. RESULTS: Because child mortality rates drop so rapidly, the costs that men experience from desertion due to augmented child mortality are modest throughout marriage. Even hypothetically inflated father effects can be overcome with modest age differences between first and second spouses. CONCLUSIONS: Returns to paternal investment in terms of increased child survival are not substantial compared to those received by successfully practicing a serial mating strategy. This suggests that factors other than the ability to enhance child survival, such as female choice, are important to the evolutionary history and continued adaptive functioning of men's unique reproductive strategies.

published proceedings

  • Am J Hum Biol

author list (cited authors)

  • Winking, J., & Gurven, M.

citation count

  • 14

publication date

  • November 2011