The association between living through a prolonged economic depression and the male:female birth ratio--a longitudinal study from Cuba, 1960-2008

Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Dec 15;174(12):1327-31. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwr357. Epub 2011 Oct 29.


The Trivers-Willard hypothesis suggests that populations respond to scarcity by decreasing the ratio of males to females at livebirth. Cuba experienced an extreme economic depression in the 1990s called the "special period." Using time-series analysis, the authors studied the impact of this event on the male:female sex ratio at birth in Cuba from 1960 to 2008. From 1990 to 1993, the per capita gross domestic product in Cuba decreased by 36%. By use of a definition of the special period from 1991 to 1998, there was a prolonged increase in the male:female ratio of livebirths during this period of economic depression (P < 0.001), from 1.06 at baseline to a peak of 1.18. This association persisted when using alternative definitions of the duration of economic depression in sensitivity analyses. Once the period of economic depression was over, the male:female ratio returned to the baseline value. These data suggest that, in Cuba, contrary to the Trivers-Willard hypothesis, the human population responded to conditions of scarcity by increasing the ratio of males to females at livebirth. These data may be relevant in the modeling of demographic projections in countries that experience prolonged economic depression and in understanding adaptive human reproductive responses to environmental change.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cuba / epidemiology
  • Economic Recession / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Gross Domestic Product / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Population Dynamics*
  • Sex Ratio*