Males and Females: The Big Little Difference

  • Jan A.R.A.M. van Hooff


Our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom have an enormous variety in the relationships between and within the sexes. Single-male – multi-female and multi-male – multi-female species exist next to single-male – single-female. What are the evolutionary reasons behind? Reproduction is essential for not becoming a dead end. Cloning and asexual reproduction do not lead to unexpected outcomes, only sexual reproduction does. The essential difference between sperm and egg cells is associated with a specialisation in a female and male role that profoundly affects the relationships between individuals. Female mammals need not worry about whether they will be fertilized, but only about by whom, while males should have as their foremost worry whether they will ever fertilize a female at all. If not so his genetic material will get lost. If the female only has a small chance of successfully rearing the youngster(s) and if this chance is increased when the male stays to help he must consider the trade-off: whether paternal care wins (in number of healthy offspring) from polygamy. Ultimately, females determine which male strategies will be successful. Our own species does not resemble our closest relatives, the chimpanzee and the bonobo, at all. True enough, we share with them a modest degree of sexual size dimorphism, and, remarkably, a comparatively great intermale tolerance. It is difficult to maintain that the human socio-sexual pattern is a set of arbitrary cultural attributes that can vary without restraint. Our species fits in a grand global scheme of evolutionarily regulated adaptations: we weave a different texture, but follow the same laws. However we differ through “paternal bonding” to a male provider, which supports women to more successfully raise their infants who are more or less helpless for a relatively long period.


Sexual Dimorphism Sexual Size Dimorphism Dominant Male Paternal Care Fertile Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Abbott, D.H. (1993). Social conflict and reproductive suppression of in marmoset and tamarin monkeys. In W.H. Mason & S.P. Mendoza (Eds.), Primate Social Conflict (331–372). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  2. Buunk, B.P., & Dijkstra, P. (2004). Gender differences in rival characteristics that evoke jealousy in response to emotional versus sexual infidelity. Personal Relationships, 11, 395–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Darwin, C.R. (1859). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  4. De Waal, F.B.M. (1997). Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. De Waal, F.B.M. (2001). The Ape and the Sushi Master. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  6. Freeman, D. (1989). The Fateful Hoaxing of Margaret Mead: A Historical Analysis of Her Samoan Research. New York, NY: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  7. Friedl, E. (1994). Sex, the invisible. American Anthropologist, 96, 833–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gangestad, S.W., & Simpson, J.A. (2000). The evolution of human mating: trade-offs and strategic pluralism. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 573–587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Hill, R.A., & Dunbar, R.M. (2002). Climatic determinants of diet and foraging behaviour in baboons. Evolutionary Ecology, 16, 589–593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kummer, H. (1992). Weiße Affen am Roten Meer: Das soziale Leben der Wüstenpaviane. München: Piper.Google Scholar
  11. Malthus, T.R. (1798). An Essay on the Principle of Population, as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr Godwin, M. Condorcet and Other Writers. London: J. Johnson.Google Scholar
  12. Mead, M. (1935). Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. New York, NY: William Morrow.Google Scholar
  13. Murdock, G.P. (1949). Social Structure. New York, NY: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  14. Murdock, G.P. (1981). Atlas of World Cultures. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  15. Penton-Voak, I.S., & Perrett, D.I. (2001). Male facial attractiveness: perceived personality and shifting female preferences for male traits across the menstrual cycle. Advances in the Study of Behavior, 30, 219–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Schmitt, D.P. (2005). Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe: a 48-nation study of sex, culture, and strategies of human mating. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 247–311.Google Scholar
  17. Shankman, P. (2000). Culture, biology and evolution: the Mead-Freeman controversy revisited. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 29(5), 539–556.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Smuts, B.B. (1985). Sex and Friendship in Baboons. New York, NY: Aldine.Google Scholar
  19. Smuts, B.B. (1987). Sexual competition and mate choice. In B.B. Smuts, D.L. Cheney, R.M. Seyfarth, R.W. Wrangham, & T.T. Struthsaker (Eds.), Primate Societies (385–399). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Stolba, A. (1979). Entscheidungsfindung in Verbänden von Papio hamadryas. Dissertation. Universität Zürich.Google Scholar
  21. Wrangham, R. (Fall, 2004). Killer species. Daedalus, 133, 25–35.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Utrecht UniversityUtrechtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations