, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 125-162

Male-female differences in effects of parental absence on glucocorticoid stress response

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Abstract

This study examines the family environments and hormone profiles of 316 individuals aged 2 months-58 years residing in a rural village on the east coast of Dominica, a former British colony in the West Indies. Fieldwork was conducted over an eight-year period (1988–1995). Research methods and techniques include radioimmunoassay of cortisol and testosterone from saliva samples (N=22,340), residence histories, behavioral observations of family interactions, extensive ethnographic interview and participant observation, psychological questionnaires, and medical examinations.

Analyses of data indicate complex, sex-specific effects of family environment on endocrine function. Male endocrine profiles exhibit greater sensitivity to presence of father than do female endocrine profiles. Father-absent males tend to have (a) low cortisol levels during infancy, (b) high or abnormal cortisol profiles during childhood and adolescence, and (c) high cortisol and low testosterone levels during adulthood compared with those of males raised with a resident father. These results indicate that early family environment has significant effects on endocrine response throughout male life histories.

Mark V. Flinn is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He studies family relationships, endocrine stress response, and child health from a mix of evolutionary and developmental psychology perspectives.
Robert J. Quinlan is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Missouri, Columbia. His interests include time allocation, family relationships, and medical anthropology. He is planning a long-term ethnographic study of cross-cousin marriage among the E’nyepa of Venezuela.
Mark T. Turner is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University. He studies covariance of mother and infant hormone and immune function in naturalistic settings using assays from saliva and breast milk samples and ethnographic observations.
Seamus A. Decker is a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University. He has studied social factors associated with daily variations of salivary cortisol and testosterone levels among males in a Caribbean village. He is currently investigating levels of stress in rural and urban populations in Botswana.
Barry G. England is an Associate Professor of Pathology and director of the ligand assay laboratories of the University of Michigan Hospitals. His primary interests concern reproductive endocrinology.