Evolution and Social Science Colloquium Series -- Fall 2018

Monday, October 15, 2018 12:00pm

S110 Memorial Union

Virpi Lummaa

Virpi Lummaa, University of Turku, Finland, presents, "Why and how we grow old: cooperation and conflict in human families," Monday, Oct. 15, S110 memorial Union.

With mid-life menopause, women show a radical de-coupling of senescence in reproductive and somatic systems, leading to up to half of total lifespan spent post-reproductive. By contrast, men maintain reproductive ability until much later ages. Although men thus sire offspring at older ages than women, in nearly all contemporary human populations women outlive men by on average of five years. While proximate causes for such fertility and lifespan differences between the sexes are well-known, our understanding of the underlying evolutionary forces for why and how we grow old is much more limited. My research focuses on ageing, lifespan and natural selection in contemporary human societies, using historical church records in an innovative way to look at evolutionary, ecological and demographic factors influencing birth and death rates in both men and women during the past 300 years. In this talk I address different evolutionary hypothesis for the benefits of menopause and post-reproductive longevity in women; assess whether selection on overall lifespan differs between the sexes; and reveal both cooperation and conflict between family members over the lifecourse of individuals. Understanding sex differences in rates of senescence in reproduction and survival, both key life-history traits, provides insights into how differing selection pressures can mould rates of senescence and ultimate longevity in our species. I hope to illustrate that although evolutionary studies on contemporary human populations suffer from many limitations, some of the data available on humans offer interesting research opportunities also for evolutionary biologists with potential implications for studies on demography, public health or anthropology.

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