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Human fathers are heavily involved in the rearing of children around the world. While there is great cross-cultural variation, the father is a recognizable role in all populations. This deviates from the standard mammalian pattern of little paternal investment. A logical explanation offered early by evolutionary theorists is that human fathers evolved the capacity for paternal concern because human children are remarkably needy and impose a great encumbrance on the mother (Lancaster & Lancaster, 1983; Lovejoy, 1981). Thus, fathers have greater opportunity to enhance the wellbeing of child and mother, as there is a deeper well of need to fill. Marginal gains of family investment are thus steeper, leading to greater possibility for such returns to supersede those provided by the short-term mating strategies that are typical of most mammals. However, the numerous studies that have explored the cross-cultural impact of father presence on child survivorship report mixed results (Sear & Mace, 2008), indicating that father presence (and by assumption, investment) does not universally associate with better-off children.

Fathers may also play an important role in enhancing the future competitiveness of their children by enhancing their physical condition, teaching them important skills, accumulating heritable wealth, or by building social alliances (Hewlett, 1992; Scelza, 2010). Previous studies have largely focused on the wellbeing of juvenile children, but a more complete test of the impact of paternal investment concerns its effect on the reproductive value of children, which must include adult fertility. Our goal in this paper is to fill this gap in the literature by reporting several measures of achieved success of adults based on the number of years their fathers were alive and present during their childhood. Specifically, we explore the impact of father presence on offspring height, body mass index (BMI), age of first reproduction, completed fertility for age, and number of surviving children for age. We report only one significant finding out of ten specific tests (five predictions for both men and women), thus failing to find any robust pattern of father death impacting the achieved success of adult children. Finally, we relate our findings to the nature of Tsimane marriage. Marriage in humans is often considered a means of facilitating the providing of bi-parental care (Hurtado & Hill, 1992; Lovejoy, 1981). Among the Tsimane, marriages are fairly stable, particularly after children have been born, strengthening the prediction that the presence of Tsimane fathers should be important to the success of children. We thus explore alternative explanations for the stability of Tsimane marriages by examining alternative fitness pathways and constraints experienced by Tsimane men.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Evolution and Human Behavior. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Evolution and Human Behavior, volume 32, issue 2, in 2011.

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