Powerful Men Have More Children
In humans, the profound biological differences that exist between the sexes mean that a single male is physically capable of having far more children than is a single female. Women carry unborn children for nine months and often nurse them for several years prior to having additional children.1 Men, meanwhile, are able to procreate while investing far less time in the bearing and early rearing of each child. So it is that, as measured by the contribution to the next generation, powerful men have the potential to have a far greater impact than powerful women, and we can see this in genetic data.
The great variability among males in the number of offspring produced means that by searching for genomic signatures of past variability in the number of children men have had, we can obtain genetic insights into the degree of social inequality in society as a whole, and not just between males and females. An extraordinary example of this is provided by the inequality in the number of male offspring that seems to have characterized the empire established by Genghis Khan, who ruled lands stretching from China to the Caspian Sea. After his death in 1227, his successors, including several of his sons and grandsons, extended the Mongol Empire even farther—to Korea in the east, to central Europe in the west, and to Tibet in the south. The Mongols maintained rested horses at strategically spaced posts, allowing rapid communication across their more than 8,000-kilometer span of territory. The united Mongol Empire was short-lived—for example, the Yüan dynasty they established in China fell in 1368—but their rise to power nevertheless allowed them to leave an extraordinary genetic impact on Eurasia.2