Human generation times across the past 250,000 years

Sci Adv. 2023 Jan 6;9(1):eabm7047. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abm7047. Epub 2023 Jan 6.


The generation times of our recent ancestors can tell us about both the biology and social organization of prehistoric humans, placing human evolution on an absolute time scale. We present a method for predicting historical male and female generation times based on changes in the mutation spectrum. Our analyses of whole-genome data reveal an average generation time of 26.9 years across the past 250,000 years, with fathers consistently older (30.7 years) than mothers (23.2 years). Shifts in sex-averaged generation times have been driven primarily by changes to the age of paternity, although we report a substantial increase in female generation times in the recent past. We also find a large difference in generation times among populations, reaching back to a time when all humans occupied Africa.