Royal Society Publishing

Maternal grandmothers improve nutritional status and survival of children in rural Gambia

Rebecca Sear, Ruth Mace, Ian A. McGregor


Hypotheses for the evolution of human female life–history characteristics have often focused on the social nature of human societies, which allows women to share the burden of childcare and provisioning amongst other members of their kin group. We test the hypothesis that child health and survival probabilities will be improved by the presence of kin using a longitudinal database from rural Gambia. We find that the only kin to improve the nutritional status of children significantly (apart from mothers) are maternal grandmothers, and that this is reflected in higher survival probabilities for children with living maternal grandmothers. There is also evidence that the reproductive status of the maternal grandmother influences child nutrition, with young children being taller in the presence of non–reproductive grandmothers than grandmothers who are still reproductively active. Paternal grandmothers and male kin, including fathers, have negligible impacts on the nutritional status and survival of children.

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