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Parental Obligations - Evolutionary Perspectives On Family Altruism

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 3Parental Obligations - An Argument Against Unlimited Support, An Argument For The Extended Moral Obligation To Adult Children And Grandchildren

Evolutionary perspectives on family altruism

Kinship obligations to progeny and their offspring are primary features of human societies. The human species is highly social, and each adult that reaches reproductive age is the product of years of family and group nurture. No pair of procreative parents springs full grown into the world or can survive alone. In an evolutionary perspective, the primary human drive is to perpetuate one's own genes through successful mating and reproduction. But without a third generation the parental genes die. The innate drive for successful descendants motivates the many family systems that formally emphasize extended family responsibilities. New evolutionary analyses of the helping behavior of grandparents focuses upon the ways that greater help is given to those grandchildren whose genetic relationship to the grandparents is certain, that is, a daughter's offspring over a daughter-in-law's. In new studies of surviving Stone Age tribes anthropologists have discerned a grandmother effect. Those children of a woman whose mother actively forages roots and foodstuffs to supplement their diet, weigh more than other children. Speculation then arises that the helping role of grandmothers may provide an evolutionary explanation of why women live beyond their reproductive years and experience menopause. Their care for their grandchildren provides a selective advantage. Perhaps it will soon be discovered that the help and investment of both grandparents in their adult children's nurturing of grandchildren provide advantages. Human beings, however, do not live by evolutionary mechanisms alone, so moral obligations within families do not depend upon unconscious innate drives to selectively reproduce genes. The argument for the obligation of parents to their adult children and their grandchildren is a moral one that morally convinces. It is also important that it is in accord with innate tendencies of the human species for group survival.

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