Trivers on Romney’s sons and Obama’s daughters


Jason Collins


October 19, 2012

In a National Review article a couple of months ago, Kevin Williamson questioned Obama’s status relative to Mitt Romney’s because Obama’s children were daughters, while Romney had sons.

It is a curious scientific fact (explained in evolutionary biology by the Trivers-Willard hypothesis — Willard, notice) that high-status animals tend to have more male offspring than female offspring, which holds true across many species, from red deer to mink to Homo sap. The offspring of rich families are statistically biased in favor of sons — the children of the general population are 51 percent male and 49 percent female, but the children of the Forbes billionaire list are 60 percent male. Have a gander at that Romney family picture: five sons, zero daughters. Romney has 18 grandchildren, and they exceed a 2:1 ratio of grandsons to granddaughters (13:5). When they go to church at their summer-vacation home, the Romney clan makes up a third of the congregation. He is basically a tribal chieftain.

Professor Obama? Two daughters. May as well give the guy a cardigan. And fallopian tubes.

From an evolutionary point of view, Mitt Romney should get 100 percent of the female vote. All of it.

In response, Steve Mirsky called Robert Trivers to ask whether Williamson’s use of the Trivers-Willard hypothesis was correct. Trivers notes a couple of problems with the analysis. First, voting is not the relevant decision:

“Maybe the guy should be saying that all women should try to f— [Romney]. Look, the f—er’s rich. Can you f— him and get some of the money? Or are you just voting for him? They’re two different decisions.” …

“They [women] should all want a man with money. That’s so obvious we don’t need to talk about the sex ratio of the progeny.

Of course, if you want to measure their evolutionary success, raw numbers are also a better measure:

“There’s no way of looking at the sex ratios of progeny of these two couples and predicting anything about their relative superiority over time. It would be better put as an evolutionist arguing about the five-versus-two ratio [of the total number of children born to each candidate].

A five to two gap would be hard to make up, regardless of the advantages sons may accrue from their high status.