Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

Higher Survival with Older Siblings

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1164-1



Examination of cultural provisions of childcare suggests that the presence of female alloparents including maternal relatives, friends, and older siblings result in higher survival rates.


In comparison to animals, newly born human babies are entirely dependent on their caregivers and need sensitive care and attention to survive. In most cultures, the necessary care and attention are provided by mothers and perhaps that is why, when a mother dies, the probability of infant surviving becomes slim, unless the caregiver is replaced by another sensitive human being (Brittain 1992). The positive correlation between maternal and infant mortality is quite evident in Scandinavian countries with the lowest maternal and infant mortality rates and African countries with the highest maternal and infant mortality rates (World Bank 2018). Citizens of countries with very high maternal and infant mortality rates face the biggest...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Ainsworth, M. D. S. (1978). The Bowlby-Ainsworth attachment theory. Behavioral and brain sciences, 1(3), 436–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bank, S. P., & Kahn, M. D. (1982). The sibling bond. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bereczkei, T., & Dunbar, R. I. (2002). Helping-at-the-nest and sex-biased parental investment in a Hungarian Gypsy population. Current Anthropology, 43(5), 804–809.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bishop, D. I., Meyer, B. C., Schmidt, T. M., & Gray, B. R. (2009). Differential investment behavior between grandparents and grandchildren: The role of paternity uncertainty. Evolutionary Psychology, 7, 66–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bove, R. B., Valeggia, C. R., & Ellison, P. T. (2002). Girl helpers and time allocation of nursing women among the Toba of Argentina. Human Nature, 13(4), 457–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brittain, A. W. (1992). Birth spacing and child mortality in a Caribbean population. Human Biology, 64, 223–234.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Das Gupta, M. (1987). Selective discrimination against female children in rural Punjab, India. Population and Development Review, 13(1), 77–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DeKay, W. T. (1995). Grandparental investment and the uncertainty of kinship. Paper presented to the 7th annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Santa Barbara.Google Scholar
  9. Emlen, S. T. (1984). Cooperative breeding in birds and mammals. In J. R. Krebs & N. Davies (Eds.), Behavioural ecology: An evolutionary approach (pp. 245–281). Sunderland: Sinauer. 305–339.Google Scholar
  10. Fields, J. (2003). Children’s living arrangements and characteristics: March 2002. In Current population reports. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  11. Hames, R., & Draper, P. (2004). Women’s work, child care, and helpers-at-the-nest in a hunter-gatherer society. Human Nature, 15(4), 319–341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hewlett, B. S. (1989). Multiple caretaking among African pygmies. American Anthropologist, 91(1), 186–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hewlett, B. S. (1991). Demography and childcare in preindustrial societies. Journal of Anthropological Research, 47, 1–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jewell, T. C., & Stein, C. H. (2002). Parental influence on sibling caregiving for people with severe mental illness. Community Mental Health Journal, 38(1), 17–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kemkes, A. (2006). Does the sex of firstborn children influence subsequent fertility behavior?: Evidence from family reconstitution. Journal of Family History, 31(2), 144–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Laham, S. M., Gonsalkorale, K., & von Hippel, W. (2005). Darwinian grandparenting: Preferential investment in more certain kin. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(1), 63–72.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167204271318.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Leiderman, P. H., & Leiderman, G. F. (1974). Affective and cognitive consequences of polymatric infant care in the East African Highlands. In Minnesota symposia on child psychology (Minnesota Historical Society, Vol. 8, pp. 81–110). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  18. Milardo, R. M. (2009). The forgotten kin: Aunts and uncles. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Muhuri, P. K., & Preston, S. H. (1991). Effects of family composition on mortality differentials by sex among children in Matlab, Bangladesh. Population and Development Review, 17, 415–434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Quinlan, R. J., Quinlan, M. B., & Flinn, M. V. (2003). Parental investment and age at weaning in a Caribbean village. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(1), 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Raj, A., et al. (2019). Associations between sex composition of older siblings and infant mortality in India from 1992 to 2016. EClinicalMedicine, 14, 14–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sear, R., & Mace, R. (2008). Who keeps children alive? A review of the effects of kin on child survival. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Sear, R., Steele, F., McGregor, I. A., & Mace, R. (2002). The effects of kin on child mortality in rural Gambia. Demography, 39, 43–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sieff, D. F. (1990). Explaining biased sex ratios in human populations: A critique of recent studies. Current Anthropology, 31, 25–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Turke, P. W. (1988). Helpers at the nest: childcare networks on Ifaluk. In Human reproductive behavior: A Darwinian perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Volk, T., & Atkinson, J. (2008). Is child death the crucible of human evolution? Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2, 247–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Weisner, T. S. (1987). Socialization for parenthood in sibling caretaking societies. In Parenting across the life span: Biosocial dimensions (pp. 237–270). New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  28. Weisner, T. S., Gallimore, R., Bacon, M. K., Barry, H., III, Bell, C., Novaes, S. C., & Williams, T. R. (1977). My brother’s keeper: Child and sibling caretaking [and comments and reply]. Current Anthropology, 18, 169–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human DevelopmentSUNY OswegoOswegoUSA
  2. 2.State University of New York at OswegoOswegoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jaimie Arona Krems
    • 1
  1. 1.Oklamoma State UniversityStillwaterUSA