December 29, 2004

Tall men and broad women

A very interesting new article suggests an explanation for pelvic sexual dimorphism in humans and other primates. It is found that species where men are taller than women also have the condition of women having a wide pelvis compared to men. It is suggested that the default condition is the female one; higher testosterone levels lead to increased vertical growth in males, and this extra growth is redirected from the lateral growth of the pelvis.

American Journal of Physical Anthropology (Early View)

Big-bodied males help us recognize that females have big pelves

Robert G. Tague


Schultz ([1949] Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 7:401-424) presented a conundrum: among primates, sexual dimorphism of the pelvis is a developmental adjunct to dimorphism in other aspects of the body, albeit in the converse direction. Among species in which males are larger than females in body size, females are larger than males in some pelvic dimensions; species with little sexual dimorphism in nonpelvic size show little pelvic dimorphism. Obstetrical difficulty does not explain this relationship. The present study addresses this issue, evaluating the relationship between pelvic and femoral sexual dimorphism in 12 anthropoid species. The hypothesis is that species in which males are significantly larger than females in femoral size will have a higher incidence, magnitude, and variability of pelvic sexual dimorphism, with females having relatively larger pelves than males, compared with species monomorphic in femoral size. The results are consistent with the hypothesis. The proposed explanation is that the default pelvic anatomy in adulthood is that of the female; testosterone redirects growth from the default type to that of the male by differentially enhancing and repressing growth among the pelvic dimensions. Testosterone also influences sexual dimorphism of the femur. The magnitude of the pelvic response to testosterone is greater in species that are sexually dimorphic in the femur than in those that are monomorphic.


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