Reproductive strategies

Much has been said, by many people, and in many sources, about the supposed optimal reproductive strategies of men and women. The basic idea is that men are supposed to want to have (procreative) sex with as many different women as possible, as this would serve to expand their gene base. Women, conversely, are supposed to be more choosy, picking out a successful man because either his high-quality genes will lead to greater success in her offspring or because he will be better able to help her care for them.

The problem is that this is bunk.

Humans have a single, unified reproductive strategy. We don’t just spam out young and abandon them in the hope that a few will make it to adulthood. Neither our bodies nor our food supplies could support that and the trail of death and despair we’d leave in our wakes doesn’t bear thinking on. Humans, in short, are not turtles. Humans are nurturers, we produce a few offspring and encourage their individual success through our efforts as parents. A man who tries to pursue the strategy detailed above has set himself up to fail, as he can’t (even if he could find enough willing and available women and keep up that kind of punishing pace) spam out enough kids to succeed in turtle-fashion and he’s unable to nurture to that many children at once. He’s going to be less reproductively successful than the man who breeds with only a few women (or even just one!) but remains invested in his children’s success.

Likewise, women shouldn’t produce to their maximum either. Tossing out another kid (or preferably twins or triplets) every nine months might be possible, but it’s not conducive to the pursuit of the Human Reproductive Strategy, as it tends to be a somewhat debilitating process. A better strategy would be to achieve a sufficiency (with appropriately spaced offspring) and then to invest as an adult in the success of those offspring. A resourceful woman need not involve a man in the raising of her children, or she can even hire one if it does prove necessary. As to the genes argument, that might well be a good idea, but successful men won’t necessarily have either “good genes” (which is a pretty simplistic concept that fails to reflect the biological realities) or genes that will combine with those of the woman in question to create a successful offspring. There’s more to success than genetics, and there’s more to genetics than meets the eye.

More importantly, though, nobody actually acts like this, and if someone starts trending in that direction, we usually call them names.


4 thoughts on “Reproductive strategies

  1. BobRichter

    Actually, mice and birds are also nurturers, and life-pairing is common in some species.

    Domestic cats would actually be a better comparison (as they essentially follow these strategies despite being nurturers,) and turtles even better than that.


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