Received March 28, 2012
Pleiotropic theories for the evolutionary origins of senescence have been ascendant for forty years (see, for example, G. Williams (1957) Evolution, 11, 398-411; T. Kirkwood (1977) Nature, 270, 301-304), and it is not surprising that interpreters of demographic data seek to frame their results in this context. But some of that evidence finds a much more natural explanation in terms of adaptive aging. Here we re-interpret the 1997 results of the Centenarian Study in Boston, which found in their sample of centenarian women an excess of late childbearing. The finding was originally interpreted as a selection effect: a metabolic link between late menopause and longevity. But we demonstrate that this interpretation is statistically strained, and that the data in fact indicate a causal link: bearing a child late in life induces a metabolic response that promotes longevity. This conclusion directly contradicts some pleiotropic theories of aging that postulate a “cost of reproduction”, and it supports theories of aging as an adaptive genetic program.
KEY WORDS: theories of aging, centenarians