News » Archives » April 2016

Early adversity predicts life span

Author: Susan Alberts

Elizabeth Archie 2 Copy

In humans and other animals, harsh circumstances in early life are linked to poor health and high mortality rates in adulthood. It is thought that these effects are greatest when multiple adverse conditions occur at the same, but this hypothesis has rarely been tested. We used prospective data on 196 wild female baboons in Amboseli to show that the number of adverse circumstances that a female experiences during her juvenile years predicts how long she lives as an adult. Specifically, we examined the effects of six different adverse circumstances: (i) being born in a drought, (ii) having a low ranking mother, (iii) having a socially isolated mother, (iv) having your mother die before you reach 4 years of age (the approximate age at sexual maturity for females), (v) having a younger sibling born when you yourself are still quite young (1.5 years of age or less), and (vi) living a very large social group. Females who experience 3 or more of these adverse circumstances tend to die 10 years earlier than females who experience no adverse circumstances. For comparison, the average female, once she reaches adulthood, lives to about 18.5 years of age, so 10 years is a very large difference in the life of a female baboon.
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