Grandmothers and the evolution of human longevity: A review of findings and future directions


  • Kristen Hawkes,

  • James E Coxworth

  • Kristen Hawkes's hunter-gatherer ethnography drew her attention to unexpected sex and age differences in foraging strategies. including the crucial productivity of grandmothers, which prompted further comparisons of human and chimpanzee life histories.

  • James E. Coxworth's central interest is the application of evolutionary tools to describe and explain male competitive strategies, with particular emphasis on human evolution. This interest has led to statistical and modeling contributions and to projects investigating human life-history evolution.

Address: Department of Anthropology; University of Utah; Salt Lake City UT 84103,, phone 801-581-6117, fax 801-581-6117


Women and female great apes both continue giving birth into their forties, but not beyond. However humans live much longer than other apes do.[1] Even in hunting and gathering societies, where the mortality rate is high, adult life spans average twice those of chimpanzees, which become decrepit during their fertile years and rarely survive them.[2, 3] Since women usually remain healthy through and beyond childbearing age, human communities include substantial proportions of economically productive postmenopausal women.[4-7] A grandmother hypothesis8–12 may explain why greater longevity evolved in our lineage while female fertility still ends at ancestral ages. This hypothesis has implications for the evolution of a wide array of human features. Here we review some history of the hypothesis, recent findings, and questions for ongoing research.