Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior

Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior

Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior

Why Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human Behavior


Why are men, like other primate males, usually the aggressors and risk takers? Why do women typically have fewer sexual partners? Why is killing infants routine in some cultures, but forbidden in others? Why is incest everywhere taboo? Bobbi Low ranges from ancient Rome to modern America, from the Amazon to the Arctic, and from single-celled organisms to international politics to show that these and many other questions about human behavior largely come down to evolution and sex. More precisely, as she shows in this uniquely comprehensive and accessible survey of behavioral and evolutionary ecology, they come down to the basic principle that all organisms evolved to maximize their reproductive success and seek resources to do so.

Low begins by reviewing the fundamental arguments and assumptions of behavioral ecology: selfish genes, conflicts of interest, and the tendency for sexes to reproduce through different behaviors. She explains why in primate species--from chimpanzees and apes to humans--males seek to spread their genes by devoting extraordinary efforts to finding mates, while females find it profitable to expend more effort


Sex differences are central to our lives, wherever and whenever—however—we live. And we all think about them, from Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (“Why can't a woman be more like a man?”) to Sigmund Freud (“What do women want?”) to actor Charles Boyer (“Vive la différence!”). Are these differences ge/ netically programmed: snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails for boys versus sugar and spice and everything nice for girls? Or are we trapped by our societies into roles that may be uncongenial to us simply because we do, or do not, have a Y chromosome? This is a fascinating tangle: what do the widely acclaimed (and equally widely denied) differences between men and women mean in terms of the ways in which men and women use resources, take risks, make war, and raise children? Which differences are lasting, which are ephemeral? If we follow the real differences through time, across space, and into different environments, what might they mean in today's societies?

We are asking these questions at an exciting time. New research in evolutionary theory, combined with findings from anthropology, psychology, sociology, and economics, supports the perhaps unset/ tling view that men and women have indeed evolved to behave dif/ ferently—that, although environmental conditions can exaggerate or minimize these differences in male and female behaviors, under most conditions each sex has been successful as a result of very dif/ ferent behaviors. I will argue that many apparently complex behav/ iors and sex differences in fact arise from simple conditions that are conducive to analysis.

I begin with the fundamental principle of evolutionary biology, that all living organisms have evolved to seek and use resources to . . .

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