The Descent of Man – Day 64 of 151

Supplement on the Proportional Numbers of the Two Sexes in Animals Belonging to Various Classes

As no one, as far as I can discover, has paid attention to the relative numbers of the two sexes throughout the animal kingdom, I will here give such materials as I have been able to collect, although they are extremely imperfect. They consist in only a few instances of actual enumeration, and the numbers are not very large. As the proportions are known with certainty only in mankind, I will first give them as a standard of comparison.


In England during ten years (from 1857 to 1866) the average number of children born alive yearly was 707,120, in the proportion of 104.5 males to 100 females. But in 1857 the male births throughout England were as 105.2, and in 1865 as 104.0 to 100. Looking to separate districts, in Buckinghamshire (where about 5000 children are annually born) the mean proportion of male to female births, during the whole period of the above ten years, was as 102.8 to 100; whilst in N. Wales (where the average annual births are 12,873) it was as high as 106.2 to 100. Taking a still smaller district, viz., Rutlandshire (where the annual births average only 739), in 1864 the male births were as 114.6, and in 1862 as only 97.0 to 100; but even in this small district the average of the 7385 births during the whole ten years, was as 104.5 to 100: that is in the same ratio as throughout England. (48. ‘Twenty-ninth Annual Report of the Registrar-General for 1866.’ In this report (p. xii.) a special decennial table is given.) The proportions are sometimes slightly disturbed by unknown causes; thus Prof. Faye states “that in some districts of Norway there has been during a decennial period a steady deficiency of boys, whilst in others the opposite condition has existed.” In France during forty-four years the male to the female births have been as 106.2 to 100; but during this period it has occurred five times in one department, and six times in another, that the female births have exceeded the males. In Russia the average proportion is as high as 108.9, and in Philadelphia in the United States as 110.5 to 100. (49. For Norway and Russia, see abstract of Prof. Faye’s researches, in ‘British and Foreign Medico-Chirurg. Review,’ April 1867, pp. 343, 345. For France, the ‘Annuaire pour l’An 1867,’ p. 213. For Philadelphia, Dr. Stockton Hough, ‘Social Science Assoc.’ 1874. For the Cape of Good Hope, Quetelet as quoted by Dr. H.H. Zouteveen, in the Dutch Translation of this work (vol. i. p. 417), where much information is given on the proportion of the sexes.) The average for Europe, deduced by Bickes from about seventy million births, is 106 males to 100 females. On the other hand, with white children born at the Cape of Good Hope, the proportion of males is so low as to fluctuate during successive years between 90 and 99 males for every 100 females. It is a singular fact that with Jews the proportion of male births is decidedly larger than with Christians: thus in Prussia the proportion is as 113, in Breslau as 114, and in Livonia as 120 to 100; the Christian births in these countries being the same as usual, for instance, in Livonia as 104 to 100. (50. In regard to the Jews, see M. Thury, ‘La Loi de Production des Sexes,’ 1863, p. 25.)

Prof. Faye remarks that “a still greater preponderance of males would be met with, if death struck both sexes in equal proportion in the womb and during birth. But the fact is, that for every 100 still-born females, we have in several countries from 134.6 to 144.9 still-born males. During the first four or five years of life, also, more male children die than females, for example in England, during the first year, 126 boys die for every 100 girls–a proportion which in France is still more unfavourable.” (51. ‘British and Foreign Medico-Chirurg. Review,’ April 1867, p. 343. Dr. Stark also remarks (‘Tenth Annual Report of Births, Deaths, etc., in Scotland,’ 1867, p. xxviii.) that “These examples may suffice to show that, at almost every stage of life, the males in Scotland have a greater liability to death and a higher death-rate than the females. The fact, however, of this peculiarity being most strongly developed at that infantile period of life when the dress, food, and general treatment of both sexes are alike, seems to prove that the higher male death-rate is an impressed, natural, and constitutional peculiarity due to sex alone.”) Dr. Stockton Hough accounts for these facts in part by the more frequent defective development of males than of females. We have before seen that the male sex is more variable in structure than the female; and variations in important organs would generally be injurious. But the size of the body, and especially of the head, being greater in male than female infants is another cause: for the males are thus more liable to be injured during parturition. Consequently the still-born males are more numerous; and, as a highly competent judge, Dr. Crichton Browne (52. ‘West Riding Lunatic Asylum Reports,’ vol. i. 1871, p. 8. Sir J. Simpson has proved that the head of the male infant exceeds that of the female by 3/8ths of an inch in circumference, and by 1/8th in transverse diameter. Quetelet has shewn that woman is born smaller than man; see Dr. Duncan, ‘Fecundity, Fertility, and Sterility,’ 1871, p. 382.), believes, male infants often suffer in health for some years after birth. Owing to this excess in the death-rate of male children, both at birth and for some time subsequently, and owing to the exposure of grown men to various dangers, and to their tendency to emigrate, the females in all old-settled countries, where statistical records have been kept, are found to preponderate considerably over the males. (53. With the savage Guaranys of Paraguay, according to the accurate Azara (‘Voyages dans l’Amerique merid.’ tom. ii. 1809, pp. 60, 179), the women are to the men in the proportion of 14 to 13.)

It seems at first sight a mysterious fact that in different nations, under different conditions and climates, in Naples, Prussia, Westphalia, Holland, France, England and the United States, the excess of male over female births is less when they are illegitimate than when legitimate. (54. Babbage, ‘Edinburgh Journal of Science,’ 1829, vol. i. p. 88; also p. 90, on still-born children. On illegitimate children in England, see ‘Report of Registrar-General for 1866,’ p. xv.) This has been explained by different writers in many different ways, as from the mothers being generally young, from the large proportion of first pregnancies, etc. But we have seen that male infants, from the large size of their heads, suffer more than female infants during parturition; and as the mothers of illegitimate children must be more liable than other women to undergo bad labours, from various causes, such as attempts at concealment by tight lacing, hard work, distress of mind, etc., their male infants would proportionably suffer. And this probably is the most efficient of all the causes of the proportion of males to females born alive being less amongst illegitimate children than amongst the legitimate. With most animals the greater size of the adult male than of the female, is due to the stronger males having conquered the weaker in their struggles for the possession of the females, and no doubt it is owing to this fact that the two sexes of at least some animals differ in size at birth. Thus we have the curious fact that we may attribute the more frequent deaths of male than female infants, especially amongst the illegitimate, at least in part to sexual selection.

It has often been supposed that the relative age of the two parents determine the sex of the offspring; and Prof. Leuckart (55. Leuckart, in Wagner ‘Handworterbuch der Phys.’ B. iv. 1853, s. 774.) has advanced what he considers sufficient evidence, with respect to man and certain domesticated animals, that this is one important though not the sole factor in the result. So again the period of impregnation relatively to the state of the female has been thought by some to be the efficient cause; but recent observations discountenance this belief. According to Dr. Stockton Hough (56. ‘Social Science Association of Philadelphia,’ 1874.), the season of the year, the poverty or wealth of the parents, residence in the country or in cities, the crossing of foreign immigrants, etc., all influence the proportion of the sexes. With mankind, polygamy has also been supposed to lead to the birth of a greater proportion of female infants; but Dr. J. Campbell (57. ‘Anthropological Review,’ April 1870, p. cviii.) carefully attended to this subject in the harems of Siam, and concludes that the proportion of male to female births is the same as from monogamous unions. Hardly any animal has been rendered so highly polygamous as the English race-horse, and we shall immediately see that his male and female offspring are almost exactly equal in number. I will now give the facts which I have collected with respect to the proportional numbers of the sexes of various animals; and will then briefly discuss how far selection has come into play in determining the result.


Mr. Tegetmeier has been so kind as to tabulate for me from the ‘Racing Calendar’ the births of race-horses during a period of twenty-one years, viz., from 1846 to 1867; 1849 being omitted, as no returns were that year published. The total births were 25,560 (58. During eleven years a record was kept of the number of mares which proved barren or prematurely slipped their foals; and it deserves notice, as shewing how infertile these highly-nurtured and rather closely-interbred animals have become, that not far from one-third of the mares failed to produce living foals. Thus during 1866, 809 male colts and 816 female colts were born, and 743 mares failed to produce offspring. During 1867, 836 males and 902 females were born, and 794 mares failed.), consisting of 12,763 males and 12,797 females, or in the proportion of 99.7 males to 100 females. As these numbers are tolerably large, and as they are drawn from all parts of England, during several years, we may with much confidence conclude that with the domestic horse, or at least with the race-horse, the two sexes are produced in almost equal numbers. The fluctuations in the proportions during successive years are closely like those which occur with mankind, when a small and thinly-populated area is considered; thus in 1856 the male horses were as 107.1, and in 1867 as only 92.6 to 100 females. In the tabulated returns the proportions vary in cycles, for the males exceeded the females during six successive years; and the females exceeded the males during two periods each of four years; this, however, may be accidental; at least I can detect nothing of the kind with man in the decennial table in the Registrar’s Report for 1866.

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