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Secondary sex ratios and male lifespan: Damaged or culled cohorts

  • Author(s): Catalano, Ralph;
  • Bruckner, Tim
  • et al.

Population stressors reportedly reduce the human secondary sex ratio (i.e., the odds of a newborn's being male) by, among other mechanisms, inducing the spontaneous abortion of males who would have been born live had mothers not been stressed. Controversy remains as to whether these abortions result from reduced maternal tolerance of males at the low end of a relatively constant distribution of survivability (i.e., the “culled cohort” explanation) or from shifts in the whole distribution of survivability such that more males fall below a relatively constant criterion of maternal tolerance for low survivability (i.e., the “damaged cohort” explanation). These alternatives make opposing predictions regarding the relationship between the secondary sex ratio and lifespan of male birth cohorts. We test the hypothesis that the secondary sex ratio among Swedish cohorts born in the years 1751 through 1912 predicts male cohort life expectancy at birth (i.e., realized lifespan). Our results support the culled cohort argument. We argue that these findings have implications for the basic literature concerned with temporal variation in the secondary sex ratio, for more applied work concerned with the fetal origins of adult health, and for pubic health surveillance.

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