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Saturday, January 05, 2013

A quick note on surnames and inbreeding 

I just heard something interesting on Australia's Radio National, late in the afternoon, today being 6 January 2013. In a discussion of unconscious motivation, the speaker claimed that it has been found that people have a tendency to marry people who already share their surname.

I find this interesting because, if true, it would confound one of the classical approaches to assessing inbreeding in human populations. The method, originally invented by Francis Galton in England in the 19th Century, relies on looking for an excess of marriages between people of the same surname, on the assumption that this represents people marrying their cousins of the same name. That is, it is meant to provide a measure of inbreeding.

However, if people have a psychological propensity to marry people with the same surname, without reference to their being relatives, this tends to weaken Galton's classic method, does it not?

Such a confounding effect would presumably have led to a systematic overestimation of levels of inbreeding.

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