When the mother-in-law is just as good – Differential mortality of reproductive females by family network composition

When the mother-in-law is just as good – Differential mortality of reproductive females by family network composition

Abstract

Motivated by the cooperative breeding hypothesis, we investigate the effect of having kin on the mortality of reproductive women based on family reconstitutions for the Krummhörn region (East Frisia, Germany, 1720–1874). We rely on a combination of Cox clustered hazard models and hazard models stratified at the family level. In order to study behavior-related effects, we run a series of models in which only kin who lived in the same parish are considered. To investigate structural, non-behavior-related effects, we run a different model series that include all living kin, regardless their spatial proximity. We find that women of reproductive age who had a living mother had a reduced mortality risk. It appears that having living sisters had an ambivalent impact on women’s mortality, i.e., depending on the socioeconomic status of the family, the effect of having living sisters ranged between representing a source of competition and representing a source of support. Models which are clustered at the family level suggest that the presence of a living mother-in-law was associated with reduced mortality among her daughters-in-law especially among larger-scale farm families. We interpret this finding as a consequence of augmented consanguineous marriages among individuals of higher social strata. For instance, in first cousin marriages, the mother-in-law could also be a biological aunt. Thus, it appears that among the wealthy elite, the genetic in-law conflict was neutralized to some extent by family solidarity. This result further suggests that the tipping point of the female trade-off between staying with the natal family and leaving the natal family to join an economically well-established in-law family might have been reached very quickly among women living under the socioeconomic conditions of the Krummhörn region.

Publication
In PloS ONE
Date