The fitness of twin mothers: evidence from rural Gambia


R. Sear, Department of Anthropology, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK. Tel.: +44 20 76797842; fax: +44 20 76797728; e-mail:


We used a longitudinal database from a natural fertility population in rural Gambia to compare the overall fertility of mothers who had given birth to twins at some point in their reproductive history and mothers who had only ever given birth to singletons. We found that twin mothers had shorter birth intervals, higher age-specific fertility and more surviving children than singleton mothers. This suggests that, despite the considerably higher mortality of twins found in this population, twin mothers have a fitness advantage over singleton mothers, even in the absence of modern medical care. We ran a simple simulation model to estimate the relative fitness of twin and singleton mothers, and found that the model also estimated higher fitness for twin mothers. Further, girls who went on to become twin mothers were of higher anthropometric status during their teenage years than those who became singleton mothers.