Original Article

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 60, Issue 1, pp 34-45

First online:

Human digit ratios depend on birth order and sex of older siblings and predict maternal fecundity

  • Nicola SainoAffiliated withDipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano Email author 
  • , Barbara LeoniAffiliated withDipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano
  • , Maria RomanoAffiliated withDipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano

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Abstract

In men, the length ratio of the second to fourth finger (2D:4D) is smaller, while the length of the fourth finger relative to body height (4D:H) is larger than in women. Inter- and intrasexual variations in 2D:4D and 4D:H may depend on variation in fetal androgen and oestrogen environment. As maternal physiology varies with parity and is differentially affected by gestation of either sex, offspring 2D:4D and 4D:H may change according to sex and number of older siblings and may predict subsequent maternal performance. We analysed 2D:4D and 4D:H in Caucasian university students. 2D:4D was smaller and 4D:H was larger in males than in females, but no sexual dimorphism existed in 2D:H. In males, length ratios did not vary with birth order. 2D:4D became more masculine with increasing proportion of males among older siblings, and 2D:4D and 4D:H became more feminine as the number of older sisters increased. In females, length ratios did not vary with the number of older sisters or brothers. 2D:4D was also not related to birth order, but 4D:H became more masculine with birth order. In females, residual maternal fecundity (number of maternal offspring after the participant) decreased as 4D:H became more masculine. These findings are partly consistent with those from previous studies and suggest that maternal fecundity co-varies with length ratios and thus possibly fetal hormone environment of older offspring. 2D:4D and 4D:H may therefore represent powerful tools to investigate the relationships between fetal environment, offspring phenotype and maternal life history at mechanistic and evolutionary levels.

Keywords

Androgens Birth order Digit ratios Fecundity Sex ratio