Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Male, More Risks

Reading in the paper the other day that the male gene may disappear one day – outlived its usefulness. Could happen, I suppose. Don't hold your breath!

Article was expostulating that because males are prone to risk-taking being male is a risky business and, therefore, not a good strategy for long-term survival. Possibly the article is correct, but we will have to wait a few million years to find out.

It is true that males take more risks. It's in their genetic make-up . And, when you stop to think about it – it makes good genetic sense. Males need to take risks to provide for their families. Exactly the same today as it was 20 thousand years ago – only the risks today are in the boardroom - not the backwoods. Being a man means you trade off the comfortable (genetically speaking) life of a child-bearer for the uncertainty of attracting a mate and keeping her – a risky business. Putting it bluntly: women always know that the child they bear is genetically theirs; men are never 100% sure. That's the facts boys – get used to it.

So, in order to maximize their chances of passing their genes on to the next generation, men take risks to attract and keep a mate – and to provide food and shelter for their mate and their offspring as part of the bargain. I know this doesn't sound very romantic – but then again it probably worked for 1000 generations before anyone “invented” love and relationships, so maybe it has got something going for it!

As men we like to think that we do the choosing when it comes to picking a mate. Wrong. Women do the choosing and the criteria they use hasn't changed much in a very long time. They want a man who will provide for them and stick around! No good fathering children all over the place and abandoning them. Well, no good for women – great idea if you are a man and can get away with it!! Women need men who will stay around and provide. And provide. And provide some more! So, sorry, no commitment – no sex and no children. Simple plan – and it works.

Men pay the price. Because they take risks to attract a mate and risks to provide food and shelter, they may lose everything. They may be gone before they reproduce. That's the trade-off. Men are genetically programmed to take risks. As a way of compensating, mother nature provides about 105 males for every females born.

Don't believe me? Check out:

Globally, there are about 105 – 107 boys born for every 100 girls. And, in the highest sex birth ratio in the United States, which occurred in 1946, there were 105.9 boys born per 100 girls: at the lowest sex birth ratio (in 2001), there were 104.6 boys born per 100 girls. There were 104.8 boys born in 2000 for every 100 girls. Statistically, 1946 was a good year for the boys!

Now, this is interesting. Did mother nature realize in 1946 that a World War had just ended and more men were going to be needed to replace the ones who died in the war? Could the same thing have happened in 1919-20? Could the intervening 50 years of peace after 1946 have fooled Mother Nature into a false sense of security and account for the fall in the number of boys born? Sounds an interesting research problem to me!

Statistically, by about the age of five the numbers even out. Being a boy has risks. Male babies are not as likely to survive infancy as females. They are more susceptible to childhood diseases.

So, next time your young son is found climbing a tree and dangling from a high branch – don't shout too loud. You may frighten him and he may fall – taking your genes with him – and he may just be following a risky biological program which is beyond his power to add or detract.

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