Frequency-dependent female genital cutting behaviour confers evolutionary fitness benefits

by Janet A. Howard and Mhairi A. Gibson
Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, Article number: 0049 (2017)

6 pp. 213 kB
http://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-016-0049.pdf

Female genital cutting (FGC) has immediate and long-term negative health consequences that are well-documented, and its elimination is a priority for policymakers. The persistence of this widespread practice also presents a puzzle for evolutionary anthropologists due to its potentially detrimental impact on survival and reproductive fitness. The authors show that FGC behaviour is frequency-dependent; the probability that girls are cut varies in proportion to the FGC frequency found in their ethnic group. They also show that in ethnic groups with high FGC frequency, women with FGC have significantly more surviving offspring than their uncut peers, and the reverse is found in ethnic groups with low FGC frequency. The results demonstrate how evolutionary and cultural forces can drive the persistence of harmful behaviours.

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