Competitive motherhood from a comparative perspective

Publication Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



Mothers play an important role in helping their children achieve maximal reproductive success. We explore how mothers across species manipulate birth sex ratios favoring the sex that will be best suited to their environments and how maternal competition affects offspring reproductive success in nonhuman mammals as well as humans. The Trivers-Willard hypothesis, resource competition hypothesis, resource enhancement hypothesis, and maternal dominance hypothesis are considered with respect to maternal birth sex ratio manipulation. Next, the primate literature is reviewed as inspiration for hypotheses on maternal competition for positive offspring outcomes. Nonhuman primates as well as humans are argued to compete for status, breeding opportunities, and allomothers (i.e., caregivers apart from the mother), and these factors have an impact on their reproductive success. Status is passed on from mother to offspring, amplifying the effects of competition for status. Future directions are delineated to fill in gaps in the existing literature.


reproductive success, Trivers-Willard hypothesis, birth sex ratio, maternal dominance, female status striving, paternal care, allomothers, alloparents


Psychology | Social Psychology | Social Psychology and Interaction

Research Areas



The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition


Maryanne L. Fisher

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