Increased longevity evolves from grandmothering

Peter S. Kim, James E. Coxworth, Kristen Hawkes

Abstract

Postmenopausal longevity may have evolved in our lineage when ancestral grandmothers subsidized their daughters' fertility by provisioning grandchildren, but the verbal hypothesis has lacked mathematical support until now. Here, we present a formal simulation in which life spans similar to those of modern chimpanzees lengthen into the modern human range as a consequence of grandmother effects. Greater longevity raises the chance of living through the fertile years but is opposed by costs that differ for the sexes. Our grandmother assumptions are restrictive. Only females who are no longer fertile themselves are eligible, and female fertility extends to age 45 years. Initially, there are very few eligible grandmothers and effects are small. Grandmothers can support only one dependent at a time and do not care selectively for their daughters' offspring. They must take the oldest juveniles still relying on mothers; and infants under the age of 2 years are never eligible for subsidy. Our model includes no assumptions about brains, learning or pair bonds. Grandmother effects alone are sufficient to propel the doubling of life spans in less than sixty thousand years.

  • Received July 27, 2012.
  • Accepted October 2, 2012.
View Full Text