Testing socioeconomic status as a marker for condition in the Trivers-Willard Hypothesis within the human context


Wagner, Brandon (2008). Testing socioeconomic status as a marker for condition in the Trivers-Willard Hypothesis within the human context. 2008 Add Health Users Conference. Bethesda, MD.


How and why parents invest in their children is a central question in both social and biological research. As social scientists have sought to incorporate biological theory and methods, biological theories about parental investment have become interesting avenues for exploration. One such model is the Trivers Willard Hypothesis, which lays out conditions under which parents will direct resources to either sons or daughters in order to maximize their potential number of grandchildren. While the hypothesis focused on physical condition of the parents and applied the logic to all animals, the authors suggested that, for humans, socioeconomic status is a marker for condition that determines resource allocation between sons and daughters. As researchers have sought to test whether the hypothesis holds true, there has been no investigation of whether socioeconomic status even fulfills the basic assumptions on which the model relies. Using data from the parent’s questionnaire and multiple waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, I test the assumptions of the Trivers Willard Hypothesis application in humans, in particular that the sex of the child moderates the effect of parental investment on the number of that child’s children. This project is able to leverage key strengths of the Add Health data. Data collection from parents and children at early time points allows estimation of different dimensions of parental investment, and sexual history questions on follow up surveys allow construction of estimates of number of children in a contraceptive free environment, a problem inherent in previous research.



Reference Type

Conference proceeding

Book Title

2008 Add Health Users Conference


Wagner, Brandon

Year Published


City of Publication

Bethesda, MD

Reference ID