On the evolution of intergenerational division of labor, menopause and transfers among adults and offspring

Ron Lee (June 25, 2013)

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We explain how upward transfers from adult children to their elderly parents might evolve as an interrelated feature of a deepening intergenerational division of labor. Humans have a particularly long period of juvenile dependence requiring both food and care time provided mainly by younger and older adults. We suggest that the division of labor evolves to exploit comparative advantage between young and old adults in fertility, childcare and foraging. Eventually the evolving division of labor reaches a limit when the grandmother's fertility reaches zero (menopause). Continuing, it may hit another limit when the grandmother's foraging time has been reduced to her subsistence needs. Further specialization can occur only with food transfers to the grandmother, enabling her to reduce her foraging time to concentrate on additional childcare. We prove that this outcome can arise only after menopause has evolved. We describe the conditions necessary for both group selection (comparative steady state reproductive fitness) and individual selection (successful invasion by a mutation), and interpret these conditions in terms of comparative advantages.