Natural Selection on Male Wealth in Humans

Daniel Nettle, Thomas Pollet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)


Although genomic studies suggest that natural selection in humans is ongoing, the strength of selection acting on particular characteristics in human populations has rarely been measured. Positive selection on male wealth appears to be a recurrent feature of human agrarian and pastoralist societies, and there is some evidence of it in industrial populations, too. Here we investigate the strength of selection on male wealth, first in contemporary Britain using data from the National Child Development Study and then across seven other varied human societies. The British data show positive selection on male income driven by increased childlessness among low‐income men but a negative association between personal income and reproductive success for women. Across cultures, selection gradients for male wealth are weakest in industrial countries and strongest in subsistence societies with extensive polygyny. Even the weakest selection gradients observed for male wealth in humans are as strong as or stronger than selection gradients reported from field studies of other species. Thus, selection on male wealth in contemporary humans appears to be ubiquitous and substantial in strength.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-666
JournalThe American Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2008


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