Cross-Species Comparison of Infant Mortality In Primates

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Interesting 2012 paper by Anthony Volk and Jeremy Atkinson compiled data for a cross-species comparisons of infant mortality in primates, including human beings. The paper found that the child mortality rate in Old World monkeys is equivalent to that of human beings in pre-modern cultures as well as contemporary hunter-gatherer groups.

The precise quantitative nature of the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA) is difficult to reconstruct. The EEA represents a multitude of different geographic and temporal environments, of which a large number often need to be surveyed in order to draw sound conclusions. We examine a large number of both hunter–gatherer (N=20) and historical (N=43) infant and child mortality rates to generate a reliable quantitative estimate of their levels in the EEA. Using data drawn from a wide range of geographic locations, cultures, and times, we estimate that approximately 27% of infants failed to survive their first year of life, while approximately 47.5% of children failed to survive to puberty across in the EEA. These rates represent a serious selective pressure faced by humanity that may be underappreciated by many evolutionary psychologists. Additionally, a cross-species comparison found that human child mortality rates are roughly equivalent to Old World monkeys, higher than orangutan or bonobo rates and potentially higher than those of chimpanzees and gorillas. These findings are briefly discussed in relation to life history theory and evolved adaptations designed to lower high childhood mortality.

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