The potential pitfalls of studying adult sex ratios at aggregate levels in humans

Thomas V. Pollet*, Andrea H. Stoevenbelt, Toon Kuppens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Human adult sex ratios have been studied extensively across the biological and social sciences. While several studies have examined adult sex ratio effects in a multilevel perspective, many studies have focused on effects at an aggregated level only. In this paper, we review some key issues relating to such analyses. We address not only nation-level analyses, but also aggregation at lower levels, to investigate whether these issues extend to lower levels of aggregation. We illustrate these issues with novel databases covering a broad range of variables. Specifically, we discuss distributional issues with aggregated measures of adult sex ratio, significance testing, and statistical non-independence when using aggregate data. Firstly, we show that there are severe distributional issues with national adult sex ratio, such as extreme cases. Secondly, we demonstrate that many `meaningless' variables are significantly correlated with adult sex ratio (e.g. the max. elevation level correlates with sex ratio at US state level). Finally, we re-examine associations between adult sex ratios and teenage fertility and find no robust evidence for an association at the aggregate level. Our review highlights the potential issues of using aggregate data on adult sex ratios to test hypotheses from an evolutionary perspective in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20160317
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume372
Issue number1729
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sep 2017

Keywords

  • methodology
  • aggregation
  • inference
  • cross-national analyses
  • CROSS-NATIONAL DIFFERENCES
  • VIOLENT CRIME
  • ECOLOGICAL FALLACY
  • SIMPSONS PARADOX
  • MARRIAGE MARKETS
  • UNITED-STATES
  • TESTING EVOLUTIONARY
  • MARITAL OPPORTUNITY
  • NORTHERN-IRELAND
  • SOCIAL SUPPORT

Cite this

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title = "The potential pitfalls of studying adult sex ratios at aggregate levels in humans",
abstract = "Human adult sex ratios have been studied extensively across the biological and social sciences. While several studies have examined adult sex ratio effects in a multilevel perspective, many studies have focused on effects at an aggregated level only. In this paper, we review some key issues relating to such analyses. We address not only nation-level analyses, but also aggregation at lower levels, to investigate whether these issues extend to lower levels of aggregation. We illustrate these issues with novel databases covering a broad range of variables. Specifically, we discuss distributional issues with aggregated measures of adult sex ratio, significance testing, and statistical non-independence when using aggregate data. Firstly, we show that there are severe distributional issues with national adult sex ratio, such as extreme cases. Secondly, we demonstrate that many `meaningless' variables are significantly correlated with adult sex ratio (e.g. the max. elevation level correlates with sex ratio at US state level). Finally, we re-examine associations between adult sex ratios and teenage fertility and find no robust evidence for an association at the aggregate level. Our review highlights the potential issues of using aggregate data on adult sex ratios to test hypotheses from an evolutionary perspective in humans.",
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author = "Pollet, {Thomas V.} and Stoevenbelt, {Andrea H.} and Toon Kuppens",
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The potential pitfalls of studying adult sex ratios at aggregate levels in humans. / Pollet, Thomas V.; Stoevenbelt, Andrea H.; Kuppens, Toon.

In: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 372, No. 1729, 20160317, 19.09.2017.

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleScientificpeer-review

TY - JOUR

T1 - The potential pitfalls of studying adult sex ratios at aggregate levels in humans

AU - Pollet, Thomas V.

AU - Stoevenbelt, Andrea H.

AU - Kuppens, Toon

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N2 - Human adult sex ratios have been studied extensively across the biological and social sciences. While several studies have examined adult sex ratio effects in a multilevel perspective, many studies have focused on effects at an aggregated level only. In this paper, we review some key issues relating to such analyses. We address not only nation-level analyses, but also aggregation at lower levels, to investigate whether these issues extend to lower levels of aggregation. We illustrate these issues with novel databases covering a broad range of variables. Specifically, we discuss distributional issues with aggregated measures of adult sex ratio, significance testing, and statistical non-independence when using aggregate data. Firstly, we show that there are severe distributional issues with national adult sex ratio, such as extreme cases. Secondly, we demonstrate that many `meaningless' variables are significantly correlated with adult sex ratio (e.g. the max. elevation level correlates with sex ratio at US state level). Finally, we re-examine associations between adult sex ratios and teenage fertility and find no robust evidence for an association at the aggregate level. Our review highlights the potential issues of using aggregate data on adult sex ratios to test hypotheses from an evolutionary perspective in humans.

AB - Human adult sex ratios have been studied extensively across the biological and social sciences. While several studies have examined adult sex ratio effects in a multilevel perspective, many studies have focused on effects at an aggregated level only. In this paper, we review some key issues relating to such analyses. We address not only nation-level analyses, but also aggregation at lower levels, to investigate whether these issues extend to lower levels of aggregation. We illustrate these issues with novel databases covering a broad range of variables. Specifically, we discuss distributional issues with aggregated measures of adult sex ratio, significance testing, and statistical non-independence when using aggregate data. Firstly, we show that there are severe distributional issues with national adult sex ratio, such as extreme cases. Secondly, we demonstrate that many `meaningless' variables are significantly correlated with adult sex ratio (e.g. the max. elevation level correlates with sex ratio at US state level). Finally, we re-examine associations between adult sex ratios and teenage fertility and find no robust evidence for an association at the aggregate level. Our review highlights the potential issues of using aggregate data on adult sex ratios to test hypotheses from an evolutionary perspective in humans.

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KW - aggregation

KW - inference

KW - cross-national analyses

KW - CROSS-NATIONAL DIFFERENCES

KW - VIOLENT CRIME

KW - ECOLOGICAL FALLACY

KW - SIMPSONS PARADOX

KW - MARRIAGE MARKETS

KW - UNITED-STATES

KW - TESTING EVOLUTIONARY

KW - MARITAL OPPORTUNITY

KW - NORTHERN-IRELAND

KW - SOCIAL SUPPORT

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