The evolution of parent-offspring conflict over mate choice

Pieter van den Berg, Tim W. Fawcett, Abraham P. Buunk, Franz J. Weissing*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


In human societies, parents often have a strong influence on the mate choice of their offspring. Moreover, empirical studies show that conflict over mate choice between parents and offspring is widespread across human cultures. Here we provide the first theoretical investigation into this conflict, showing that it may result from an underlying evolutionary conflict over parental resource distribution. We present a series of evolutionary simulations in which we gradually expand a standard model of sexual selection by the stepwise addition of elements of parental involvement. In our model, females obtain resources enhancing their fecundity from both their chosen mate and their parents. Potential mates differ in their ability to provide resources and may signal this ability. Both females and their parents can develop a preference for the signal, with both preferences influencing the realized mate choice of the female. Parents may differentially allocate resources among their daughters depending on the resource-provisioning abilities of their sons-in-law. When fecundity returns on investment are diminishing, we find that parents invest most in daughters whose mates provide few resources. Subsequently, the daughters evolve to exploit this allocation rule through their mate choice, which is not in the parents' best interests. This results in a conflict over mate choice between parents and their offspring, manifested as an on-going divergence of offspring and parental preferences. We predict that the conflict should be most pronounced when fathers, as opposed to mothers, control resource allocation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-411
Number of pages7
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2013


  • Arranged marriage
  • Direct versus indirect benefits
  • Good parent
  • Intergenerational conflict
  • Mate preference evolution
  • Parental resource distribution
  • Sexual selection
  • Theoretical model


Dive into the research topics of 'The evolution of parent-offspring conflict over mate choice'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this