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Hum Nat. 1991 Dec;2(4):313-50. doi: 10.1007/BF02692196.

The evolution of premature reproductive senescence and menopause in human females : An evaluation of the "grandmother hypothesis".

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Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1054 LSA, 48109-1382, Ann Arbor, MI.


Reproductive senescence in human females takes place long before other body functions senesce. This fact presents an evolutionary dilemma since continued reproduction should generally be favored by natural selection. Two commonly proposed hypotheses to account for human menopause are (a) a recent increase in the human lifespan and (b) a switch to investment in close kin rather than direct reproduction. No support is found for the proposition that human lifespans have only recently increased. Data from Ache hunter-gatherers are used to test the kin selection hypothesis. Ache data do not support the proposition that females can gain greater fitness benefits in old age by helping kin rather than continuing to reproduce. Nevertheless, one crucial parameter in the model, when adjusted to the highest value within the measured 95% confidence interval, would lead to the evolution of reproductive senescence at about 53 years of age. Further investigation is necessary to determine whether the kin selection hypothesis of menopause can account for its current maintenance in most populations.


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