Programs of Research

Life History/Life Span

The interest in life history theory and lifespan development devolves from the dual concerns of a biocultural approach: on the one hand, the biology must "work" at all points of the lifespan well enough to avoid death while, on the other, the "work of culture" must generate or allow a tolerably meaningful psychosocial life throughout that long lifespan. These are tremendous feats, and ones seldom studied in tandem. Worthman's introduction and chapter in a book co-edited with Catherine Panter-Brick on Hormones, Health and Behavior, provide a critical analysis of life history theory, and lay out lifespan endocrinology on four axes as a step toward characterizing the endocrine architecture of human life history strategy. In the laboratory, we have completed analyses for endocrine profiles of both sexes across the lifespan from the second decade onward, in four populations, from rural Bolivia, rural Tibet (both in collaboration with Cynthia Beall), and coastal (Amele) and fringe highlands (Hagahai) Papua New Guinea (both in collaboration with Carol Jenkins). Our findings, first reported in 1997, show population variation in gonadal regulation and adrenal activity that casts doubt on current models of aging, and suggest that western populations have unusual gonadal and adrenal androgen profiles. Most notably, we observe that western populations have peak early adult levels of DHEAS nearly three times that observed in non-western groups.

Study across axes can further allow evaluation of possible trade-offs among functional demands that must be prioritized via physiological mediation. We received funding with Cynthia Beal, to study the fitness correlates of an oxygen saturation gene she discovered among Tibetans, but which does not appear to associate with fitness markers such as height, weight, survival, or fertility at altitude. In this interesting model of fitness value of genetic variants, we will examine relationships of genotype to work capacity and stress markers, as well as seek possible fitness costs associated with the saturation genotype.

Lastly, our large longitudinal samples in North Carolina, as well as the work with Nepali homeless children and ongoing follow-up study on parenting by adult victims of early abuse (with Cathy Spatz Widom, to NIMH), provide grist for our ongoing project to characterize the epidemiology of biosocial and biocultural factors that affect the course of life history and outcomes across the lifespan.
Relevant Publications
1999 C. Panter Brick and C.M. Worthman, "Contributions of biological anthropology to the study of hormones, health and behavior." In: C. Panter Brick and C.M. Worthman, eds. Hormones, Health, and Behavior. Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-17.
1999 C.M. Worthman, "The epidemiology of human development." In: C. Panter Brick and C.M. Worthman, eds. Hormones, Health, and Behavior. Cambridge University Press, pp. 47-104.
1999 C.M. Worthma, "Faster, further, higher: biology and the discourses on human sexuality." In: D.M. Suggs and A.W. Miracle, eds. Culture, Biology, and Sexuality. Athens: University of Georgia Press, pp. 64-75.
1997 C.M. Worthman, "Sex differences in endocrine regulation of life history organization." Journal of Biosocial Science 29:249-50. [Biosocial Society Workshop on Sex, Gender and Health, Durham University, UK, May 2].
1997 C.M. Worthman, C.M. Beall, and J.F. Stallings, "Population differences in DHEAS across the lifespan: implications for aging." American Journal of Human Biology 9(1):149.
1996 C.M. Worthman, "Biosocial determinants of sex ratios: survivorship, selection, and socialization in the early environment." In: Long Term Consequences of Early Environments, S.J. Ulijaszek & C.J.K. Henry, eds. Cambridge University Press, pp. 45-68.
1995 C.M. Worthman, "Hormones, sex and gender." Annual Review of Anthropology 24: 593-616.
1994 S.B. Eaton, M.C. Pike, R.V. Short, N.C. Lee, J. Trussell, R.A. Hatcher, J.W. Wood, C.M. Worthman, N.G. Blurton Jones, M.J. Konner, K.R. Hill, R. Bailey, A.M. Hurtado. "Women's reproductive cancers in evolutionary context." Quarterly Review of Biology 69:353-367.
1989 S. Katz and C.M. Worthman, "The role of DHEAS in hypertension and longevity." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 78:250-1.

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