Matrilateral biases in the investment of aunts and uncles : A consequence and measure of paternity uncertainty

Hum Nat. 1997 Jun;8(2):139-51. doi: 10.1007/s12110-997-1008-4.


In a study of the kin investment of aunts and uncles we show that the laterality effect expected as a result of paternity uncertainty is statistically reliable but somewhat smaller than the sex effect. Matrilateral aunts invest significantly more than patrilateral aunts, and the same is true for uncles. Regardless of laterality, however, aunts invest significantly more than uncles. Multivariate controls show that the matrilateral bias is fully independent of any age or distance confounds that might result from sex differences in age at marriage or dispersal. We discuss our results in relation to recent findings on the kin investment of grandparents (Euler and Weitzel 1996). In addition, we propose a simple method for estimating the level of paternity uncertainty from kin investment data; application of this method to our data on aunts and uncles suggests that between 13% and 20% of children are not the offspring of their putative father. Our parallel analyses of Euler and Weitzel's (1996) data on grandparental investment suggest a similar estimate, that paternity uncertainty lies between 9% and 17%.

Keywords: Kin investment; Matrilateral bias; Paternity uncertainty.