Sexual selection under parental choice: Evidence from sixteen historical societies

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Asymmetrical fitness benefits between parents and offspring result in the ideal spouse not being the ideal in-law. This enables parents to attempt to control the mating behavior of their children, and when they succeed, parental choice becomes a primary sexual selection force. A number of studies indicate that parental choice is dominant in contemporary pre-industrial societies. This paper presents evidence from the historical record which indicates that parental choice was also dominant during the later stages of human evolution. More specifically, 40 variables have been coded for a sample of 16 historical societies. Consistent with the model of parental choice, it is found that mating is controlled by parents, male parents exercise more control over marriage arrangements than females, and more control is exercised over female than male offspring. Finally, the specific qualities that parents desire in an in-law and offspring desire in a spouse have also been identified. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)504-518
Number of pages15
JournalEvolutionary Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Historical societies
  • In-law preferences
  • Mate choice
  • Parental choice
  • Sexual selection
  • Sexual selection under parental choice


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