Wednesday, August 22, 2007

How many of our ancestors are men?

NYTimes piece asks the question: What percentage of your ancestors are male?

Their answer isn't 50%. The article talks about how men die without reproducing significantly more than women, meaning we're descended from more women than men. And it goes into familiar areas on how men and women act differently based on biological needs. Some people believe this. Some people believe this is junk. Others, like me, don't really care.

I'm not sure I completely understand the math. I have one mother, and one father. Two grandmothers, and two grandfathers, etc. (Sure, there are ancestors with multiple spouses, but I'm only descended from one of them.) Less men may reproduce than women, but that just means men have to end up with more spouses than women. And even without the help of polygamous societies, I think there's evidence that that is true. Liz Taylor tried to even out the statistics, but she was unsuccessful. But each specific individual should have an equal number of male and female direct ancestors. And if we're talking collateral ancestors, it doesn't matter when they die.

Further, I can tell you that, while overall they may be right about today's society being descended from more women, in *my* family, there are more males. At least in recent generations. To the point that when my parents had their first child, and were told it was a girl, my father told the doctor, 'check again!' My father was one of three sons. My grandfather was one of three sons. In my generation there are 2 women and 6 men descended from my grandfather. My grandfather's brother also had two sons. So you're going to have a difficult time convincing me more of my ancestors are female.

update The NYTimes blogger updated and explained how one individual can have a different number of men/women in their ancestry. Incest. I'm sure if one goes back far enough in any line it's findable. The explanation he links to in the comments is better. If you go back enough generations you're likely to find duplicated individuals. Not due to incest, or at least not what society considers incest, since we're likely talking 3rd, 4th, or 25th cousins.

1 comment:

Janice said...


What a great article! Thank you for helping me to think about ancestors in a slightly different way.