The 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2020)

Ethnicity, fertility, and tobacco use: a biocultural test of the fetal protection model of female smoking


Anthropology, Washington State University

April 16, 2020 , Platinum Ballroom Add to calendar

Currently, cross-country variation in gender equality is thought to be the primary factor producing global tobacco use sex differences, with gender inequality, especially in low-to-middle-income countries, preventing women from obtaining and using tobacco. Our alternative hypothesis draws on the “fetal protection” theory from evolutionary anthropology which emphasizes that reproductively-aged women protect their fetuses and nursing infants via an evolved a network of toxin defenses, characterized by upregulated detoxification of- and/or strong aversions to- teratogenic substances (e.g. tobacco)—individual-level defenses that are furthermore reinforced by culture-level proscriptions aimed at safeguarding fetal/offspring health. Although support for the fetal protection model has been found (Hagen et al. 2016), prior research has used data aggregated at the nation-level and has neither examined individual-level variation nor considered that cultural norms may also influence tobacco use. Using individual-level data from a high fertility, tobacco-growing, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse province in the South Central Andes (Jujuy, Argentina), we explore the relationship various fertility indices and sociocultural tobacco norms have on nulliparous and multiparous women’s tobacco use outcomes (N=108), while controlling for demographic features and considering ethnic differences as main effects. Smoker status was determined via salivary cotinine and cross-validated with questionnaire data. Our analyses reveal ethnic differences in tobacco use attitudes and behaviors and suggest fertility characteristics are important factors in female smoking decisions. Consistent with fetal protection model predictions, these findings suggest smoking vulnerabilities intersect with sex and socio-cultural variables in an additive manner and open the door to future areas of research.

This investigation was supported in part by funds provided for medical and biological research by the State of Washington Initiative Measure No. 171.