Fragile Males on the American Frontier: The Role of Environmental Harshness and Infrastructure Development on Sex Ratios at Birth Before and After Industrialization

Ryan Schacht , East Carolina University
Heidi A. Hanson, University of Utah
Mike Hollingshaus, University of Utah
Ken R. Smith, University of Utah
Douglas Tharp, University of Utah

While sex ratios at birth (SRB) have been shown to vary within and across populations, after over a century of research, understanding why has remained elusive. A variety of ecological, demographic, economic, and social variables have been evaluated, yet their association with SRB have been equivocal. Here, in an attempt to shed light on this unresolved topic within the literature, we approach the question of what drives variation in offspring sex ratios using detailed longitudinal data spanning the frontier-era to the early 20th century in a US population. Using several measures of environmental harshness, we find that fewer boys are born during challenging times. However, these results hold only for the frontier-era and not into the period of rapid industrialization. We argue that the mixed state of the literature may have to do with the fact that the impact and frequency of exogenous stressors are likely dampened in post-industrial societies.

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 Presented in Session 11. Health & Mortality 2