Skip to content

Is there a link between paternity concern and female genital cutting in West Africa?

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number1
Early online date2 Jul 2018
DateSubmitted - 2017
DateAccepted/In press - 30 Jun 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jul 2018
DatePublished (current) - 1 Jan 2019


Here we explore the relationship between female genital cutting (FGC), sexual behaviour, and marriage opportunities in five West African countries. Using large demographic datasets (n 72,438 women, 12,704 men, 10,695 couples) we explore key (but untested) assumptions of an evolutionary proposal that FGC persists because it provides evolutionary fitness benefits for men by reducing non-paternity rates. We identify and test three assumptions implicit in this proposal. We test whether cut women have reduced extra-pair sex before or within marriage; whether FGC is associated with a younger age at marriage as an indication of partner preference; and whether individual and group-level indicators of paternity concern are associated with a stronger preference for marriage to women with FGC. Our results show that FGC status does not affect the odds of women engaging in several indicators of premarital sex, however women with FGC have significantly lower odds of having more than one lifetime sexual partner. We also show that women with FGC get married at a younger age which supports the argument that FGC status influences women's marriage opportunities, even when it does not restrict sexual activity. Finally, we find that in population groups where reported sexual activity and perceived risk of women's extra-pair sex is high, men have higher odds of marrying a first wife with FGC. Together, these results indicate that paternity certainty may be one of several factors contributing to the persistence of FGC in this sample, and that group-level sexual norms are key to maintaining the practice of FGC through the marriage market.

    Research areas

  • Evolutionary anthropology, Extra-pair sex, Female genital mutilation, Marriage, Paternity certainty, Sexual conflict

Download statistics

No data available



  • Full-text PDF (accepted author manuscript)

    Rights statement: This is the author accepted manuscript (AAM). The final published version (version of record) is available online via Elseveir at Please refer to any applicable terms of use of the publisher.

    Accepted author manuscript, 402 KB, PDF document


View research connections

Related faculties, schools or groups