Tim A. Bruckner, Samuli Helle, Elisabeth Bolund, Virpi Lummaa
Theoretical and empirical literature asserts that the sex ratio (i.e. M/F) at birth gauges the strength of selection in utero and cohort quality of males that survive to birth. We report the first individual-level test in humans, using detailed life-history data, of the ‘culled cohort’ hypothesis that males born to low annual sex ratio cohorts show lower than expected infant mortality and greater than expected lifetime reproductive success. We applied time-series and structural equation methods to a unique multigenerational dataset of a natural fertility population in nineteenth century Finland. We find that, consistent with culled cohorts, a 1 s.d. decline in the annual cohort sex ratio precedes an 8% decrease in the risk of male infant mortality. Males born to lower cohort sex ratios also successfully raised 4% more offspring to reproductive age than did males born to higher cohort sex ratios. The offspring result, however, falls just outside conventional levels of statistical significance. In historical Finland, the cohort sex ratio gauges selection against males in utero and predicts male infant mortality. The reproductive success findings, however, provide weak support for an evolutionarily adaptive explanation of male culling in utero.