Sexual selection under parental choice: the role of parents in the evolution of human mating

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Much of the evolutionary literature on human mating is based on the assumption of extensive female choice during the history of our species. However, ethnographic evidence from foraging societies reveals that, in societies thought to be akin to those of our ancestors, female choice is constrained by the control that parents exercise over their daughters. Data from 190 hunting and gathering societies indicate that almost all reproduction takes place while the woman is married and that the institution of marriage is regulated by parents and close kin. Parents are able to influence the mating decisions of both sons and daughters, but stronger control is exercised with regard to daughters; male parents have more say in selecting in-laws than their female counterparts. In light of the fact that parental control is the typical pattern of mate choice among extant foragers, it is likely that this pattern was also prevalent throughout human evolution. Because daughters' preferences can be expected not to fully coincide with those of their parents, research to date may thus have simultaneously overestimated the contribution of female preferences to processes of sexual selection and underestimated the contribution of parental preferences to such processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403-409
Number of pages7
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007


  • Female choice
  • Human mating
  • Hunters and gatherers
  • Parental choice
  • Sexual selection


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