Human Ecology

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 477–494 | Cite as

Evolutionary advantage of the menopause

  • Peter J. Mayer


To postulate an evolutionary advantage of the menopause is to address the paradox of how natural selection can favor cessation of reproduction. To do this, menopause is examined with reference to four criteria: (1) its species-specificity and genetic basis; (2) its evolutionary history; (3) its selective advantage in the context of human longevity; and (4) its possible role in human evolution. A brief review of the literature reveals that the first two criteria are satisfied. The third criterion is supported by a study of four New England genealogies which demonstrated that, among 1,890 women born between 1675 and 1874, those who died postmenopausally had greater inclusive fitness than those who died premenopausally. The finding that females with postmenopausal longevity also had greater fertility may represent age-independent improvement in survival. A theory for evolution of the menopause is advanced, based on the observation that population growth via decreased birth spacing among mobile hominid groups would be enhanced by the presence of postreproductives who served as infantcarriers.

Key words

menopause human evolution inclusive fitness longevity aging 


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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter J. Mayer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesDrexel UniversityPhiladelphia

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