The potential pitfalls of studying adult sex ratios at aggregate levels in humans

Thomas Pollet, Andrea Stoevenbelt, Toon Kuppens

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Human adult sex ratios have been studied extensively across the biological and social sciences. While several studies have examined adult sex ratio effects in a multilevel perspective, many studies have focused on effects at an aggregated level only. In this paper, we review some key issues relating to such analyses. We address not only nation-level analyses, but also aggregation at lower levels, to investigate whether these issues extend to lower levels of aggregation. We illustrate these issues with novel databases covering a broad range of variables. Specifically, we discuss distributional issues with aggregated measures of adult sex ratio, significance testing, and statistical non-independence when using aggregate data. Firstly, we show that there are severe distributional issues with national adult sex ratio, such as extreme cases. Secondly, we demonstrate that many ‘meaningless’ variables are significantly correlated with adult sex ratio (e.g. the max. elevation level correlates with sex ratio at US state level). Finally, we re-examine associations between adult sex ratios and teenage fertility and find no robust evidence for an association at the aggregate level. Our review highlights the potential issues of using aggregate data on adult sex ratios to test hypotheses from an evolutionary perspective in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20160317
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1729
Early online date31 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes

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