Humanity would fare just as well without its elders as it does with them, according to scientists.
The claims come as part of a study which found no obvious evolutionary need to live beyond the age of 50 in humans.
The discovery disputes the ‘grandmother hypothesis’, which suggests humans live long beyond their reproductive age because they care for grandchildren.
The theory also suggests that older members of our communities pass down important cultural knowledge that helps us survive.
They’re studying communities which have much longer lifespans than those which applied over our evolutionary history.
In their study, the researchers analysed detailed family records of people born in Utah from 1860-1899.
That’s well past the first bit of the demographic transition. For example, someone born at the end of that period would have been into the antibiotic age by the time they were 50. Actually, 1950 is probably just about when medical care could do something more than just be a palliative for the first time (yeah, OK, extreme argument but I’m an extremist, me).
Rather, to test the idea we need to look at lifespans over a more representative period of our development. Also, at ages of menarche, primagravida and so on. Married off and probably pregnant by 16 or 17 sounds about right. Maybe a little later in places and times. Granny at 35 or 40, looking at people past 50 doesn’t really illuminate this, does it?
Yes, I know the English had later marriage historically and so on but that’s not over evolutionary periods and it’s also something noted because it was notable.
Yes, I also know about lifespans being shorter back then because of the skew of child deaths but again over evolutionary periods we’re also talking about much shorter at age 16 or 20 as well.
My own theory, with zero evidence of course, is that in order to survive life in earlier times one had to be pretty robust. As life became easier with better nutrition, shelter, clothing, then finally medicine, that robustness leads to these longer lifespans. Around and about and given the environment in which we found ourselves, we were good enough to get to menopause/soon after it and not much more just given the plethora of things which would and could kill us. Some beat the odds and lived to great ages. Very few though, what has changed now is the odds.