October 16, 2003
Human Natural Selection In Taiwan

The competition for females in Taiwan is going to get very fierce.

On Taiwan, abortions have skewed the island's demographics to the point that only two girls are born for every three boys.

An obvious consequence is that when the little king passes puberty, he discovers that the girl he liked in high school has gone to USC, probably never to return, while those who remain are being snapped up by other men.

To ease the gender gap, Taiwanese men import brides from the mainland. Unfortunately, these women are outnumbered by those smuggled into the country illegally, who, in exchange for $10,000, can legalize their status with marriages of convenience, then head for the brothels to earn real money. These bogus nuptials are difficult to detect since many Taiwanese men hop between marriages until they find a woman who can bear them a son.

The effect this will have is to select against the reproduction of economically less successful and physically less attractive males. Women prefer wealthier and higher status males and the approximately one third of Taiwanese males who are going to be left unable to reproduce will be, on average, lower status and less affluent. Any genetic variations that reduce economic success or physical attractiveness will therefore be selected against. This will probably tend to raise the average IQ of Taiwanese babies and probably will make them more driven and motivated. For more information on the practice of selective abortion of female fetuses in China and India see the post Girl Shortage Causes Wife Buying In India. While Nobelist Sydney Brenner sees natural selection as obsolete (see Sydney Brenner: Biological Evolution Is An Obsolete Technology) it seems obvious that natural selection is still happening to humans. The only thing that has changed is that different genes are being selected for or against than was previously the case before modern medicine and cheap foods became available.

Update: To clarify a point: It can be debated just what is natural versus artificial selection. What is artificial must somehow involve sentience modifying and creating elements of an environment. Should we limit the use of the term artificial selection to refer only to changes in offspring genes caused by conscious engineering of offspring? Or if we change our environments for other reasons and, as a side effect, cause those environments to exert different selective pressures on us that change the frequency of alleles in successive generations should we call that artificial selection too? Heck if I know. I care less about semantic debates than about understanding the actual processes that are at work.

One can (and some people do) even carve out something called sexual selection as distinct from natural selection (that strikes me as more of a subcategory of natural selection - not that I care all that much whether it is treated as a subcategory). But the important point here is that just because we have modified our own environment in substantial ways does not mean that the environment is not still exerting selective pressures on us.

Selection that causes different frequencies of alleles from one generation to the next is still happening. While there are some exceptions of rather limited scope (e.g. preimplantation testing of IVF embryos) we aren't yet using genetic engineering to customize our offspring. Yet for other reasons we have made many changes to our environments which, as a side effect, are causing changes in the frequency of many alleles in successive generations of humans. Scientists who claim that human evolution by natural selection has stopped are trying to imply that there are no selective pressures at work. But it is incredibly obvious that this is an erroneous conclusion.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 October 16 12:40 PM  Trends, Human Evolution

Kelly Parks said at October 16, 2003 1:45 PM:

Yes, all the things you say about selection effects on the local genome would be true if the male to female ratio problem remained in place for a few centuries. One or two generations will have very little noticeable effect on Taiwanese IQ.

The more immediate concern is the political effect. In Taiwan and China you now have many millions of men who have no hope of marrying, a well known calmative for the male population. That's a recipe for rebellion and chaos.

Randall Parker said at October 16, 2003 2:45 PM:

Kelly, Evolution can take place very rapidly if the selection effect is strong enough. It takes time for new alleles to appear. But the frequency of existing alleles can change quite dramatically from one generation to the next. Having males outnumber females by a ratio of 3 to 2 is a very strong selective pressure.

Agreed about the effect of a large pool of single sexually frustrated males.

Amos said at October 16, 2003 3:17 PM:

And this post assumes a direct corollary between economic success and high IQ.

Randall Parker said at October 16, 2003 3:41 PM:

Amos, It doesn't assume a correlation of 1. It just assumes a positive correlation. Well, there is a strong positive correlation between IQ and income.

This isn't just about IQ though. There are surely other cognitive characteristics that contribute to the drive to make money. Plus, there are probably characteristics surely non-cognitive characteristics such as height, resistance to infections (which reduce days worked), and still other characteristics.

Jack Strocchi said at October 16, 2003 10:43 PM:

Future Pundit claims that the Taiwanese assortative-mating behaviour is an example of the continuing power of natural selection:

While Nobelist Sydney Brenner sees natural selection as obsolete (see Sydney Brenner: Biological Evolution Is An Obsolete Technology) it seems obvious that natural selection is still happening to humans.

Future Pundit misses a crucial distinction in evolutionary theory, between natural, and sexual, selection. The former environment is ecological, the latter is sociological. Surely this Taiwanese breeding pattern is an example of sexual selection? It is the "cultural", not "natural", environment that is creating adverse-selection pressures against the
approximately one third of Taiwanese males who are going to be left unable to reproduce [who] will be, on average, lower status and less affluent

Nicholas Wade makes the distinction and sumarises the position of evo-biologists regarding human evolution:
Despite the medical advances and creature comforts that shelter people in rich countries, natural selection is still hard at work. Microbes and parasites still nip at our heels, forcing the human genome to stay in constant motion...Sexual selection, too, is busily at work. This powerful process, first recognized by Darwin, works on traits that are attractive to other sex, and help the owner's genes spread into the next generation

Current evolutionary thinking would tend to contradict the eugenic notions behind the idea that class-based assortative mating would tend to degrade the gene pool. This is because of the tendency for random sexual recombination to encourage a regression towards the mean, so that dumb people who breed alot will tend, on average, to have smarter kids than themselves (and vice versa for smart people):
Not everything is roses in evolution's garden. Ronald Fisher, the British biologist, pointed out in 1930 that the genes for mental ability tend to move upward through the social classes but that fertility is higher in the lower social classes. He concluded that selection constantly opposes genes that favor creativity and intelligence...Fisher's idea has not been proven wrong in theory, although many biologists, besides detesting it for the support it gave to eugenic policies, believe it has proven false in practice. "It hasn't been formally refuted in the sense that we could never test it," Dr. Pagel said. Though people with fewer resources tend to have more children, that may be for lack of education, not intelligence. "Education is the best contraceptive. If you brought these people up in the middle class they would have fewer children," Dr. Pagel said. "Fisher's empirical observation is correct, that the lower orders have more babies, but that doesn't mean their genotypes are inferior."

Of course, that only goes for "dumber" people from a given gene pool. If there are gene pools that systematicly vary in key variables, such as IQ, and have high reproduction rates, then Fischer's theory may be true.
Whether non-artificial human evolution is over is still controversial. Steve Jones, a London biologist, thinks that natural selection is losing it's power to weed out "sickly people", because it is being replaced by good hygiene and vaccines. He argues that the process of natural selection has now stopped
because virtually everybody's genes are making it to the next generation, not only those who are best adapted to their environments...'Until recently, there were massive differences between individuals' lifespans and fecundity,' said Jones. 'In London, the death rate outstripped the birth rate for most of the city's history. If you look at graveyards from ancient to Victorian times, you can see that a half of all children died before adolescence, probably because they lacked genetic protection against disease. Now, children's chances of reaching the age of 25 have reached 98 per cent. Nothing is changing. We have reached stagnation.'

Moreover, Jones believes that sexual selection is also losing it's power to differentially sort human gene lines, given that there is now considerable travel, tourism and migration which is causing racial blending:
human populations are now being constantly mixed, again producing a blending that blocks evolutionary change. This increased mixing can be gauged by calculating the number of miles between a person's birthplace and his or her partner's, then between their parents' birthplaces, and finally, between their grandparents'. In virtually every case, you will find that the number of miles drops dramatically the more that you head back into the past. A generation ago, men and women rarely mated with anyone from a different town or city. Now people are going to universities and colleges where they meet and marry people from other continents. Hence, the blending of our genes which will soon produce a uniformly brown-skinned population. Apart from that, there will be little change in the species.

But humans are now, as Future Pundit would agree, on the cusp of a technological revolution that will free them from the dead hand of their evolutionary history:
Christopher Wills, a biologist at the University of California, San Diego, argues that technological, rather than sociological, culture is now driving evolution:
'There is a premium on sharpness of mind and the ability to accumulate money. Such people tend to have more children and have a better chance of survival,' he says. In other words, intellect - the defining characteristic of our species - is still driving our evolution.

It seems that Kubrick's vision of evolution may yet materialise.

Randall Parker said at October 17, 2003 12:27 AM:

Jack, If we use technology to remove factors that kill us that does not remove natural selection. We are part of nature. People who claim that natural selection is no longer happening because, for instance, strength of disease resistance or bodily adaptation to local climate are not selective pressures are missing the point that there are many more selective pressures at work aside from those that can kill us or that can make us too weak or hungry or tired to reproduce. Just because we have changed our environment to reduce threatse to us does not mean that our environment is not still exerting selective pressures on us. By eliminating some pressures we simply have allowed others to become more important. Some of the new pressures that we have created were not created to be selective pressures and therefore their effects upon our mating practices are accidental side effects.

The question of whether natural selection has already been replaced by artificial selection depends on how we define those two terms. I think there are a number of different defensible positions one could take on what is artificial. If we define artificial selection more narrowly as the use of technology to modify which genes are getting passed onto progeny then gene therapy on embryos is certainly artificial selection. But it is hard to know where to draw the line. Is selective abortion after ultrasound in order to do sex selection artificial? Keep in mind that babies have been selectively killed after birth in many parts of the world if they were not the desired sex.

Conscious decisions to choose a particular mate for particular characteristics strike me as more natural than artificial selection. I hold that view in part because I think cognition is part of nature and is not itself artificial. The selective criteria may change because, for instance, a man may no longer fear that a woman with narrow hips will not be able to give birth to a child naturally. But our general preferences are still a result of an interaction genetic and environmental influences on our cognitive processes. If a sentient being makes a mate choice decision based on the desire for a particular kind of offspring that does not strike me as artificial selection. If, say, we develop technology that causes us to be able to watch videos that modify our preferences for mates then the resulting changes in mating strike me as natural selective pressures. We aren't engaged in genetic engineering (at least not yet) because of what we saw in MTV videos.

As for natural selection versus sexual selection: I think of sexual selection as being a subtype of natural selection. I think it makes sense to have a single over-arching term that describes selective pressures that are not being done with knowledge of genetic sequences.

As for Christopher Wills' claim: his statement is not consistent the results published by researchers using data from the Australian Twins Study. Go to the Sydney Brenner link in my post and click thru to the details of that study. If Wills has evidece to back up his position then I'd really like to see it.

Patrick said at October 17, 2003 12:57 AM:

Of course one trait that is really, REALLY going to be selected for, is having, and keeping, female offspring. ALL the girls are going to get married, no matter how stupid or lazy they are.

Whether that is a genetically determined trait is another matter.

back40 said at October 17, 2003 4:54 PM:

A number of evolutionary thinkers, such as Bowles/Gintis, speak of gene-culture coevolution. For humans this has been going on for a long time but accelerated with the adoption of the cultural practice of farming in settled communities. Cultural practices such as eating large amounts of carbohydrates or dairy products have provided differential thrival rates. Being a bit healthier due to digestive abilities better suited to a local diet can be a strong selection pressure. The reason dairy cultures are predominantly lactose tolerant in adulthood is that those who lacked this ability had a thrival disadvantage.

I see your Taiwanese speculations as having analogous coevolutionary properties, culture and genes affect one another.

Jack Strocchi said at October 19, 2003 7:46 PM:

I am in general intellectual agreement with FP, although I think that his terminology is unhelpful and confusing.

If we use technology to remove factors that kill us that does not remove natural selection. We are part of nature.

Human evolution in the current inter glacial, may be defined as a sustained attempt to transcend Nature. FP smears out the crucial distinction between Nature & Nurture and Culture:

  • Nature is pure genotypes, molecular instantiation, heritable gene sequences.

  • Nurture effects phenotypes, cellular expression, acquired food, sunlight & maternal care, all regulate the development of the organism, and it's breeding chances

  • Culture is all about memotypes, nodular distribution, creation of idea systems.
Modern humans are most emphaticly not part of Nature, we are at war with Nature, and seek to manipulate, insulate and fabricate Nature. Artificial (I call it Rational) Selection use unnatural social and mechanical technology to defeat or retreat from Nature. If these were natural things then the first homo sapiens would have started using them immediately. Yet most of human evolutionary history has been spent at the nomadic mode of production: tribal social insitutions and hunting and gathering technology.

FP states a truism that misses the point about modern media and neural physiology:

cognition is part of nature and is not itself artificial.

It is true that our basic organic apparatus of perception and cognition hasnt changed since much in the past epoch, and is still anchored in meat. But one does not have to be a post-modernist social constructionist to recognise that social revolutions and new technology have radically altered human world models. A classic example is the picture of the earth from space, and it's effect on the environmental movement. A more prosaic example is the effect that constant media imagery bombardment has on the cognitive skills of young people. Perception does in fact physically sculpt neural pathways. Since modes of perception have been radically altered since the advent of electronic media (global village) it follows that our physical nature has been artificially contrived. In short, at a molecular level, our neural pathways would look quite different from those of our pre-literate ancestors.
Once syber-neural interfaces become feasible, it will be game over. We will no longer have immediate cognitive interface with the world will no longer be natural, it will be cultural ie technological eg virtual reality.

FP and I are in agreement that Sexual Selection is a sub-module of Natural Selection:

As for natural selection versus sexual selection: I think of sexual selection as being a subtype of natural selection.

I agree, Evolutionary Selection is the overarching term that covers both:

  • Natural Selection: random molecular mutations at the genotypic level of the individual gene

  • Sexual selection: mind-directed cellular recombinations at the phenotypic level of the individual organism
It seems that Natural Selection has contrived Sexually Selective brains that notice phenotypic-level macro fitness indicators which are founded on useful/adaptive, but invisible, genotypic-level mirco gene sequences. Once a useful genetic mutation becomes instantiated, it's propagation is accelerated because potential mates recognise that it it's legatees bear useful traits, and their offspring inherit a tendency to favour the same kind of mate. Hence the diffusion of the mutation is accelerated through the breeding community, and thus a race, and perhaps species, is formed.
But Artificial/Rational Selection transcends these processes, and if the revolutions isn molecular and cellular biology succeed, they will reverse them. Hence Wills conclusion about the evo-innovatory capacity of technology is valid. Biotechnology will cut out the natural & sexual selective middle men in our evolutionary progress.

Howard said at October 26, 2003 8:57 PM:

I would agree that intelligence genes will be highly selected for when the ratio of males to girls is 3:2, but only in a capitalistic society. In a socialist or communistic society, the selective pressures will not be very effective.

But science aside, when did girls choose their men based on how many calculus equations they could solve anyway? I think that good looks, atheletic build, and good health are much more important.

I agree wholeheartedly that millions of unmarried men in Taiwan and China is going to cause headache for local law inforcement and the central government security apparatus. But I imagine that Tsingtao and Taiwan Beer company shareholders will be forcasting big dividends in the coming years.

jaime said at January 9, 2004 3:01 AM:

Chinese have been killing baby daughters for milleniums. In Chinese classic I read that parents of boys used to buy girls to be, when grown, wifes to their sons.

Julian Lieb, M.D said at November 18, 2005 2:43 PM:

Lieb,J."Eicosanoids: the molecules of evolution." Med Hypoth (2001)56(6)686-693
Lieb, J."An experiment on infertility illuminates prostaglandins in natural selection." Med Hypoth (2004)63,370
Julian Lieb, M.D

ken said at March 2, 2006 2:19 AM:


One problem probably overlook is the problem of bisexual, lesbians and gays in taiwan which is very serious. The numbers of sex diseases is raising in taiwan too.

My ex-girlfriend is from taiwan and i am a guy from singapore. She was normal at first but was eventually brainwash by her new friend Vicky a lesbian to break up with me. Now my ex-girlfriend is a lesbian and she blame all the problems of breaking up on me. I only found out she is lesbian when i read her online diary after we broke up for nearly two years. She was already a lesbian before we broke up. So she was bisexual.

The gay, lesbian, Bi-sexual problem will effect the genes pool too. Some gay and lesbian are well to do in society and they will not have a normal family. Putting the consideration of sex diseases like AIDS, herpes and other new diseases. Some of these diseases and genes pool will pass to another generation even if they start a family.

It is very common these days for suspecting husband to send their children for DNA testing. With some cases of being their son or daughter of different husband.

Jerry said at March 16, 2006 10:28 AM:

The article is BS. "3 boys born for every 2 girls" is the statistic for 4th child, pretty rare in Taiwan these days. Check the URL I provided. Government figures from Taiwan:

"According to 2000 figures, among families having more than one child, the male-to-female ratio was 107:100 for the first born, 108:100 for the second child, 119:100 for the third; and 135:100 for the fourth."

Yes there is a gender gap, but it's NOT 3 boys to 2 girls for total births. According to CIA factbook, the estimated birth rate in Taiwan is 1.57 child/women. Most women in Taiwan today have only 1 or 2 children. The actual gender gap, by total birth rate, is something like 109 boys : 100 girls in 2005.

paris hilton said at January 6, 2008 7:47 PM:

Taiwans Should PROTECT their darn gurlz!

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright